x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE road deaths on rise after four-year downward trend

Road safety: First-quarter figures reflect lack of care on roads, says UAE driving instructor.

An unlicensed Emirati driver, 16, was killed in a car crash in Al Barsha area in February, just one of 48 this year to die so far. The National-Photo courtesy of Dubai Police
An unlicensed Emirati driver, 16, was killed in a car crash in Al Barsha area in February, just one of 48 this year to die so far. The National-Photo courtesy of Dubai Police

DUBAI // A rise in fatalities in the first quarter of 2013 has halted the significant downward trend in traffic deaths in Dubai over the past four years.

Official statistics from Dubai Police traffic department put the first-quarter rise at 77.7 per cent compared with the past two years.

In the past three months, there were 724 accidents in the emirate, with 48 fatalities. This compared with 27 and 33 deaths in 2012 and 2011, respectively.

A lack of respect for other road users caused 11 deaths, failing to observe a safe distance between vehicles caused eight deaths and running a red light and entering a busy street led to three deaths each.

“Drivers are just so much more impatient these days,” said Gloria Castillo, a driving instructor at the Sharjah Motor Driving School, who has taught in the UAE for more than 15 years.

Ms Castillo said she had noticed a significant change over the past few years. “They are more inconsiderate to other drivers and pedestrians and do not follow the traffic rules. Even five years ago people were giving way to other drivers and being more courteous.”

Now, she said, little of that respect remained and drivers routinely cut off women and older drivers.

“One of my own students would not let an older Emirati driver pass even though he had his hazard lights on and was waving his hands. I had to apply the brakes myself and the student was angry for it.”

Statistics also showed that crashes caused by sudden swerving (175) resulted in the most deaths this year with 15 fatalities.

Ms Castillo said a likely cause was drivers not looking over their shoulder when changing lanes.

“This is the first rule that drivers forget. Many students tell me they don’t need to shoulder-check because the mirrors are enough but there is always a blind spot,” she said.

Brigadier Hasan Al Housani, secretary general for Emirates Traffic Safety Society, said the reasons for the rise in road accidents and fatalities in Dubai this year were  unclear.

“Forty-eight deaths in three months is a big number, but this could be due to the increase of traffic during the winter months and the many vacations students have during these times,” he said.

He also pointed to the increase in visitors to the emirate during the high tourist season and the recent adverse weather as possible causes of the rise in accidents.

But Ms Castillo said she did not believe the problem was seasonal. She said she believed that there had  been a deterioration in the quality of driving for years.

A change to licensing laws might do the trick, she said. Retesting drivers at renewal time and reducing the validity of the licence would serve to refresh the rules and regulations for drivers.

“Drivers forget the rules and laws of the street easily so they should be reminded of them more often,’’ Ms Castillo said. “Ten years is too long to have a valid driving licence. By that time you are a completely new driver.”

She suggested retesting and renewing every three to five years would also improve the skills of older drivers. “In the old days they didn’t have the same rules as they do now. As long as you could change gears and move a car forward you would get the licence.”

Ms Castillo said UAE traffic laws were sufficient, but people must pay attention. “I am now always telling my students, ‘See the way they are driving. Please don’t become a driver like them’.”

tsubaihi@thenational.ae