Thoughts on Dubai road safety

Having just had a car accident and having a new baby to transport around has made me look at Dubai’s roads afresh.

Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of the concerned authorities, the road safety situation is streets ahead of what it was ten years ago. I would also say that standards of driving and road safety here are the best in the UAE.

It’s a pretty tough job regulating this stuff – you have people from all over the world with varying levels of education and varied driving cultures in their home countries. Lots of people drive ‘big cars’ – 4x4s or fast cars that can be quite difficult to drive safely when you’ve learnt in something much smaller and are used to a Corolla rather than a Land Cruiser or Porsche. You have an exaggerated feeling of omnipotence when floating along in a Patrol like mine, for example, combined with fairly sloppy handling and immense power. It’s easy to feel invincible, especially when some numpty in a Nissan Tiida is doing 60Kmph in the middle lane in front of you, whilst bellowing into his mobile phone.

There are also religious aspects that don’t really play a factor in many countries, for example. If you truly believe that your life has been written out for you already by the Almighty, it might affect your attitude to safe driving in varying degrees.

So what’s improved? In general, people do seem to behave better and there is less speeding. Indicator usage is more common, though some people still think that just because you are indicating it gives you the right to pull in front of someone… Driving down the hard shoulder or central reservation doesn’t really happen any more.

Taxi drivers are much better, but are still serial offenders when it comes to tailgating, changing lanes constantly, stopping dead with no warning to pick up a fare and so on. The worst of the bunch appear to have been weeded out or incentivised to drive better through a fairly stiff system of fines, at least.

There are still plenty of areas that could do with some improvement.

Some think the laws of physics not to be applicable to them – to whit, the idiot who pulled in front of me and nearly totalled my car. Lane discipline is still pretty appalling, as is trying to push in to queues in stupid ways, tailgating, etc.

People I know who have learnt to drive here, regardless of where they are from, seem not to be taught to the standard they would be in the UK or Northern Europe. The driving schools need to start teaching people to, erm, drive.

You’re supposed to keep to the right on the motorway, but this is never taught, it seems, leading to people who meander along in the middle lane causing chaos, thinking they are doing nothing wrong.

A friend of ours was actually encouraged by her instructor not to indicate when changing lanes ‘as the other person will see you, speed up and block you from changing lane’.

Another friend was taught, when joining a road via a slip road, to do what I call, for want of a better word, ‘over-undertaking’ . Say you are in front, joining the road, driving along at a sensible speed, waiting for a car on the road your are joining to pass so that you can move across into the lane. Instead of waiting for you to pull over, the car behind you will often pull out when the road is clear for them, meaning you cannot pull out as you are blocked again as the person behind you is now blocking you in turn, with the road fast running out ahead. This is ‘over-undertaking’. This drive me nuts.

Another classic is pulling out of a side road in front of an oncoming car but not actually driving off, instead just sitting there blocking the road, forcing the oncoming car to slam its brakes on, or swerve out of the way. People need to be taught that it’s bad enough pulling out in a way that causes the oncoming driver to brake, but it’s even worse to pull out and just sit there. Why do people do this? It just makes no sense for anyone.

You still see people reversing down the motorway if they’ve missed a junction, though thankfully not as often as before.

Addressing the ongoing problems can be done with some simple, cost-effective changes, as well as with some more expensive, longer term initiatives.

Better standards are needed at driving schools, for example.

What about those drivers who learnt ages ago, especially during a time when Dubai’s roads were pretty simple, with no multilane motorways? Let’s have some more signs up – signs that tell people to keep to the right, keep their distance, get in lane, stay in lane, etc, etc. One of things I like here is that we’re not surrounded by endless US style signs telling us what to do and what not to do, but a bit more info drumming common sense into people wouldn’t go amiss and wouldn’t cost a lot either.

So let’s at least have some improved standards at the driving schools and some more signage telling people what they are supposed to do.

I would also like to see police patrols actively pulling people over, especially on the Sheikh Zayed Road.

It goes without saying that if it is illegal to using your phone or watching TV on a screen mounted on or in your dashboard is illegal, video advertising on the side of the road should be too.

Longer term, we need longer on and off ramps to major roads and no more junctions where everyone joining the motorway is forced to blend with everyone leaving it. There are too many instances where traffic is suddenly merged with little warning or roads where most people who are on the right seem to need to pull over to the left and vice versa, leading to chaos. There are also too many areas where it’s too easy not to bother getting in lane in time, leading drivers to push in at the last minute.

These aspects need to be designed into new roads being built and problem areas need to be re-engineered – longer term stuff that will take a bit of planning and time.

Until then, perhaps some simple solutions could be implemented.

There, I feel better now.

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