Driver beware: why Ramadan makes UAE roads deadlier

Fasting can cause low blood sugar and dehydration, which in turn can result in tiredness, impatience, headaches, faint-headedness and loss of concentration – a lethal cocktail on the road.

DUBAI // Drivers have been urged to exercise extreme caution behind the wheel during Ramadan and to take particular care in the early evening hours as people rush home to break their fast with iftar.

A set of guidelines to help motorists remain safe on the road during the Holy Month has been drawn up by the Emirates Driving Institute.

The initiative has been welcomed by Dr Abdulilah Zineddin, a road safety expert in Abu Dhabi, who said the number of accidents rose during Ramadan.

"I think if all safety-related agencies here can contribute to some kind of public awareness effort before and during Ramadan then that's a great thing," he added.

The institute says fasting can cause temporary low blood sugar and dehydration, which in turn can result in tiredness, impatience, headaches, faint-headedness and loss of concentration - a lethal cocktail for any driver.

Many worshippers stay up late during Ramadan or rise early for suhoor, the predawn meal. Lack of sleep can cause problems such as drowsiness and irritability, according to PM Abdul Razak, assistant manager of the institute's instructor training centre, who wrote the guidelines.

His recommendations include getting enough sleep, pulling over immediately when becoming drowsy and allowing plenty of time to reach a destination. If all else fails, he suggests leaving the car at home and using public transport or taxis.

"Few hours of sleep, evenings full of social obligations and errant meal times affect the driver's ability to remain alert and focused while driving," said Mr Razak. "Fatigue reduces the driver's concentration level and increases his reaction time. It means that extreme caution is required during Ramadan."

He said a lack of concentration could lead to drivers missing road signs or exits, abruptly changing speed and switching from lane to lane.

"During Ramadan you must be aware of your own fatigue as well as your physical and mental condition to ensure your safety and the safety of your passengers," added Mr Razak.

He said non-Muslim drivers should remember that those who were fasting were unable to react as they normally would.

Dr Zineddin said: "In my opinion the lack of food and drink, dehydration and all that obviously impacts your capabilities and your motor skills. The other thing is that people tend to rush. They have more arrangements so a lot of us tend to rush during Ramadan - especially before the iftar time.

"People do not plan their schedules properly so they end up rushing and speeding, and that leads to accidents. So the big advice is: plan ahead, and please do not rush because you're already dehydrated and hungry and your decision-making and cognitive capabilities are affected. There is no need to make it worse by driving faster."

He said both fasting and non-fasting drivers should be more cautious during Ramadan, especially around sunset.

"I will be fasting but I still have to be careful about aggressive drivers and those who are trying to rush around," he added. "I approach a junction with signals very, very slowly at iftar time - even when the light is green.

"In the back of my head I'm thinking someone who's rushing is going to run a red light, and that could cost me my life."

The institute and Dr Zineddin are not alone in warning about the hazards of driving during the Holy Month. The British Embassy says on the Ramadan section of its website: "Driving may be more erratic than usual, particularly during the later afternoon and early evening."

The ExpatWoman website has released a set of Ramadan pointers in which it recommends staying off the roads at sundown.

The dangers of driving during Ramadan were underlined last year when four people died on Abu Dhabi's roads on the final day of the fast.

The Holy Month is expected to commence around July 21.