Every day in this country, people put their lives on the line simply by trying to cross the road. Although the number of pedestrian deaths has been steadily falling in recent years, the reality is that the rate is far too high and more than one in every five serious accidents involves a pedestrian.
Some of the reasons for this problem are obvious to anyone who walks the streets of our major cities: too many drivers do not treat pedestrians as if they have the right of way, there is insufficient enforcement of those who fail to give way to them, the fines do not create an adequate deterrent and the pedestrian crossings themselves are sometimes so poorly marked that drivers do not realise they are there. The way to making significant progress to diminish the pedestrian death rate will require significant effort in a range of areas.
One of the first has to be education. A recurring impediment to improving road safety is the high number of expatriates, many of whom will have swapped their licence from the country of origin for a UAE one without having had to sit either a written or practical test of their skills. But even those who do have to undergo testing here often fail to learn the basics of pedestrian safety. Even as education initiatives get the message about local road rules through to everyone who drives here, many of them will leave and be replaced by others without that knowledge.
Enforcement too is a factor. Although automated initiatives such as speed cameras have kept traffic closer to the speed limit, there has been relatively little attention paid to ensuring drivers stop for pedestrians who are crossing at designated sites. Given that Abu Dhabi traffic prosecution figures showed that 22 per cent of serious crashes involve pedestrians, this is an area that needs more attention, with penalties significant enough for drivers to take this seriously.
Road engineering must also improve. Although a lot of recent work has been put into creating footbridges and underpasses, where there are pedestrian crossings on the road – particularly for crossings in mid-block, away from traffic signals – they need to be far better marked so drivers are aware. Pedestrians themselves must play their part, with too many prioritising convenience over safety by crossing at an illegal site rather than using the footbridges. There will not be a single answer to improving safety but through addressing all these, we will make progress.