The air bag: Journeys abroad put UAE driving into focus

I have been away from the UAE for the best part of a month. My first drive after returning was one of the most nerve-racking I have experienced.

Rural driving in Britain differs from the UAE’s roads.
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I have been away from the UAE for the best part of a month and hadn’t driven on its roads for five weeks. But I have been doing nothing but driving during my sojourns to the United Kingdom and the United States, visiting family using a rental car and test-driving a new Rolls-Royce on the vast, open roads of Nevada.

Over the years, I have been easily capable of switching from left to right, depending on which side the steering wheel is located, so the danger of me immediately exiting my building in Dubai ­Marina into oncoming traffic isn’t an issue. But still, my first drive after returning, running errands and attending meetings, was one of the most nerve-racking I have experienced.

The problem was that while I had been driving overseas, I had quickly adjusted to the local conditions and habits of other drivers. In the UK, motorways rarely have more than three lanes for traffic and the national speed limit is a strictly enforced 70mph (113kph), so there’s little option but to toe the line, which means easing off with one’s right foot. The rural roads I spent most of my holiday on were often narrow with poor visibility, too, making for a more sedate pace than we’re used to here.

In the US, speed limits are even more draconian and even more strictly enforced. Depending on which state you break traffic laws in, you could easily end up spending a couple of nights in jail, even for what we might consider minor indiscretions. So most people drive sensibly, and again, there’s little option but to do the same.

As you might imagine, my own driving habits were quickly reset – and that’s where my problems here came to light.

Within seconds of joining the traffic on a particularly busy weekday morning, other motorists cut me up. Another wove around me as I was exiting the E11, almost causing a serious collision, while everyone else seemed to be doing breakneck speeds. As my day progressed, the situation only got worse, with new roadworks having popped up during my absence. Yet nobody appears to ease off their throttle, no matter what.

Amazingly, I managed to get back to my apartment with both myself and my car still in one piece. I felt completely alien out there, like a total amateur, yet deep down I knew what was required to make my next journey more manageable.

My next journey, in the evening of the same day, was much more like it. I sped up, kept with the flow and forced myself to be more alert. It was more akin to playing a video game than the driving I had become used to in other lands, and while stress ­levels were still high, I felt less vulnerable by being a worse, more selfish driver.

One thing I really enjoyed about driving overseas for extended periods of time was the more relaxed pace. I love thrashing a sports car along mountain roads as much as the next person, but whenever all you’re doing is getting from A-to-B, usually there’s no need to rush. And if we’re to significantly reduce the death toll on our roads here, we need to change our ways.

Human nature being what it is, we will need our collective hands to be forced – and that means the law getting even tougher on speeding. In the US, Europe and Australasia, the punishments for breaking speed limits are so severe that most drivers simply do not dare to push their luck. The results speak for themselves – it’s high time we slowed things down here. Better late than dead on time, as the saying goes.

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