Drivers' attitude blamed for high death toll on roads

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A lack of a responsible driving culture is the main cause of fatal road accidents in the Arab world, a safety official said yesterday. "We are a failure in teaching road safety," said Afif al Frigui, head of the Arab Road Safety Organisation. "In Europe, traffic rules are followed under any circumstances, even when it is snowing, because people respect the rules. Yet, if a man moves from Paris into the Arab world he will eventually get influenced by the bad driving habits because the environment as a whole does not follow the rules," he told an international symposium on traffic safety management systems in Abu Dhabi.

"It is not the sole responsibility of police operations, as many people seem to believe," Mr Frigui said. "It is an educational issue. For example, parents should impose traffic safety on their children. Imams should preach about it during Friday prayers." A Ministry of Interior official told the symposium the Government would adopt new procedures for training learner drivers and establish more driving schools.

The ministry's traffic department director, Col Gheath al Zaabi, said: "We plan to reduce deaths caused by traffic accidents by 1.5 for every 100,000 people each year. We will study the recommendations at the end of the symposium and see what could be applied to the UAE environment." The ministry's aim is to bring down road deaths to 14.2 per 100,000 by the end of 2008 from last year's figure of 15.7 per 100,000.

Saif al Shafar, undersecretary at the Ministry of Interior, said new laws such as the black-points system for traffic offences had already helped to reduce road accidents. He also said a ban on cars more than 20 years old would contribute to traffic safety, because "over-aged cars increase pollution and accidents as they could suffer technical flaws". About 36,000 people died in traffic accidents in the Arab world in 2007, according to official figures. In GCC countries, about 9,000 motorists died and 65,000 were injured.

The five-day symposium is organised by the Emirates Traffic Safety Society, the Arab Road Safety Organisation and Prévention Routière Internationale. Traffic experts from the UAE and Arab world are attending to discuss the nature and challenges of traffic accidents, traffic safety on the international level, how to influence attitudes of road users, improving infrastructure and the role of traffic regulation and ambulances. * with additional reporting by Matthew Chung