Drive to boost a pedestrian safety culture

The lack of awareness of the rights of pedestrians is in part a reflection of the high proportion of expatriate workers here, most of whom bring with them the driving practices of their countries of origin. Delores Johnson / The National
The lack of awareness of the rights of pedestrians is in part a reflection of the high proportion of expatriate workers here, most of whom bring with them the driving practices of their countries of origin. Delores Johnson / The National

We already know the benefits that are likely to flow from Dubai’s Car Free Day today – the roads will be a little less congested, the air quality will be better and some ardent drivers will discover the city’s public transport service is actually a cheap and efficient way to get around. Another might be unexpected: a newfound empathy for pedestrians from having been one for a day.

There is an entirely different perspective gained from being a pedestrian taking some tentative steps onto a crossing compared to being a behind the wheel of a car that weighs a couple of tonnes and is travelling at a rapid pace. Few in the UAE would feel confident in expecting all drivers to abide by the law giving pedestrians the right of way. With roughly one third of road deaths in this country involving pedestrians, this needs to change.

Dubai’s Car Free Day is one way to help achieve that. As we reported this weekend, another is to upgrade zebra crossings so that lights flash to alert drivers that a pedestrian is using them. But these initiatives will work far better with a dedicated education programme to ensure that everyone who drives in the UAE fully understands that pedestrians have the right of way when using a designated crossing.

The lack of awareness of the rights of pedestrians is in part a reflection of the high proportion of expatriate workers here, most of whom bring with them the driving practices of their countries of origin. Even drivers from countries where pedestrian rights are well established and strictly enforced are sometimes unaware of exactly what the law is here, particularly if they take their cues from the behaviour of other drivers.

Education programmes will help change that misperception of pedestrian rights, although with an endless cycle of expatriates returning home and being replaced by others, this will have to be an ongoing process if the gains are to be maintained.

However neither engineering nor education on their own will achieve the goal of making the cities of the UAE safe for pedestrians. Enforcement is the third part of the equation so that drivers will learn via their wallet – and, in extreme cases, through losing their licence – that pedestrian safety is taken seriously. Together, a concerted effort to promote the rights of pedestrians will mean there are fewer families who have experienced the tragedy losing a loved one to a preventable incident.

Published: February 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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