A little bit of scepticism is always a good thing, and not only for those working at a newspaper. Take these recent statistics on road deaths in the UAE. Overall, it's good news: fatalities on Emirates roads have dropped by 10 per cent in 2009 compared with the previous year. According to Col Ghaith al Zaabi, the director general of traffic co-ordination at the Ministry of Interior, there were 109 fewer deaths last year, 963 as opposed to 1,072 in 2008.
That's still a very high number, but any reduction is welcomed, as the UAE has one of the highest per capita road death ratios in the world. The reductions, police say, were a direct result of the new black points system, as well as tighter limits with speed cameras, particularly in Dubai. "The strict enforcement of the Federal Traffic Law, which was amended in 2008 to include the black point system and heftier fines for serious offences, is the primary cause [for the fall in fatalities]," he said.
A 10 per cent fatality reduction in the span of a year is a very lofty achievement. Yes, there was a marked increase in enforcement. But could there be more to it than just the policing? Last year may have been a good one on our roads, but it was a terrible one for our workforce. The UAE was certainly not immune to the economic meltdown that hit the entire world in late 2008, and the consequences were felt in almost every job sector here.
As reported in The National, a recent survey of 24,000 professionals by gulftalent.com, an online recruitment firm, found that one in 10 workers in Gulf countries lost their jobs last year. The survey also states that the UAE was the hardest hit of all, with a full 16 per cent of the workforce here being made redundant in 2009. This terrible economic climate may actually have had an impact on our roads. This phenomenon of fewer fatalities tied to redundancies is going on all around the world. And if you lived in Dubai last year, you probably noticed that it took less time to get where you wanted to by car - there was much less traffic on the road.
One factor would be that some people simply packed up and moved away. For example, as the construction sector was particularly hard hit, fewer labourers means fewer rickety buses lumbering down the roads. And consider this tidbit: figures from the Interior Ministry state that, in the first half of 2009, the number of accidents was actually higher by 11.5 per cent compared with the same period in 2008. Al-Zaabi told the Khaleej Times that this was due to, among other things, "roadworks".
Instead, how about this: perhaps the huge drop in accidents in the second half of the year is partly because families who suffered redundancies waited until after the school year ended to pull out their children, pack up and leave town. But even if an unemployed person remained in the country, if they have no job and they aren't dropping off or picking up their kids from school, there isn't much reason for them to join the rush hour commute. And even if many people managed to find another job, driving patterns have changed dramatically with job losses and shuffling.
Any drop in fatalities and accidents is welcome on the UAE roads, but we have to credit more than just enforcement. This can be misleading and, more importantly, dangerous, because it only means there is a lot more work to be done. firstname.lastname@example.org