Emirati Life: young and safe drivers can be a reality in the UAE

While teenagers have the highest accident rates among all age groups, putting them behind the wheel in a monitored and legal setting would teach them safe driving techniques.

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Like many Emiratis, I was introduced to the world of driving at a younger age than was legally permitted.

Being a firm believer in the notion that the earlier you start driving, the better a driver you will become, my father threw me in the deep end at a young age.

The challenge of being behind the wheel of an off-road vehicle in the deserts of Abu Dhabi at the age of 15 provided a steep learning curve, during which I picked up the art of driving quickly.

My dune lessons, coupled with those in empty car parks, gave me a good feel for cars and a sense of confidence in the driver's seat.

But these sessions did not provide practical, on-road experiences and responsible driving etiquette.

Sure, my father talked until the camels came home about the rules and intricacies of driving on the roads and highways, but as I was still three years away from being legally allowed to drive, never mind apply for a license, most of the theory could not be put into practise.

With no legal way to satisfy my teenage urge to drive, I did what many of my fellow adolescents did at the time - I sneaked out in my parents' car, unsupervised, at night.

Lowering the legal driving age, which has recently been proposed by the Ministry of Interior, may have prevented this most dangerous of adolescent action.

The decision to readdress the age limit for legal driving is crucial in order to curb the ever-increasing number of youths driving illegally on the streets of the UAE. There are youths who take to the roads not for pleasure but out of necessity, as is the case of youths in rural areas, who are expected to help their families while their older relatives work and stay in the cities during the week.

Many people have voiced their shock and disapproval at such a measure in a nation where road fatalities are high, especially among the youth, arguing that allowing more teenagers to drive is a recipe for disaster.

I tend to disagree with them.

While teenagers have the highest accident rates among all age groups, putting them behind the wheel in a monitored and legal setting would teach them safe driving techniques. This legislation need not give those under the age of 18 equal and full driving rights, but can introduce them to the road in a measured manner.

Some suggestions include training young drivers through a graduate driver licensing programme and allowing them to drive only in daylight. Other measures include the mandatory presence of an adult passenger during the first phases of their licensing, limiting teenage passengers who may introduce distractions and closely monitoring the observance of speed limits.

This gradual technique of building up driving experience in a low-risk environment could nurture responsible drivers, albeit young ones, in a safe manner.

I have witnessed similar licensing laws in the United States, which have led to an average 10 to 30 per cent reduction in crashes involving teenage drivers.

Had such an option existed during my teenage years, my eagerness to get behind the wheel could have been satisfied in daylight, in a monitored and safe environment, rather than a dark, covert and dangerous one.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter for The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US

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