Emiratis share driving resolutions for the New Year

There were fewer fatal accidents on the roads last year, but many drivers are still finding it hard to shake off bad habits behind the wheel. Will they learn in 2013?

Last year was a mixed one on the roads. Encouragingly, despite an increase in the number of drivers, early figures indicate fewer fatal accidents.

Less encouragingly, almost 4,000 accidents in Abu Dhabi were caused by drivers running red lights, and in Dubai there were more than 36,000 fines for one offence alone - using a mobile phone while driving.

Experts say for road safety to improve, drivers need to change their attitudes, so with the dawn of a new year The National asked eight Emirati drivers what their resolutions would be for 2013.

From cutting out sleeping at the wheel to ditching the BlackBerry and tempering road rage, their answers suggest that at least some drivers are taking the message of road safety on board.

Slow down

Almur Al Mansoori will be taking a more cautious approach to his driving in 2013. The unemployed 25-year-old recently paid Dh11,000 for more than 30 speeding fines he accumulated over the past six months.

"I follow the rules on the road, but I don't always watch the speed I'm driving at which is why I get the fines," he says. "I'm alert on the road, I understand there might be traffic so I try to remain calm."

Nevertheless, Almur, who drives a Mercedes CLS500, realises he needs to be more careful as with his current lack of employment he can't afford to keep stumping up the money.

Stay awake

Mohamed Al Salmi, 29, sometimes catches himself falling asleep while driving. He has a tiring job as a control engineer for an oil company, alternating between morning and evening shifts. To focus properly on the road, he realises he needs to get more rest.

"I also use my phone a lot while driving, I have to change because driving is harder nowadays as the streets are more crowded."

Mohamed, who drives a 2012 Nissan Patrol, also admits to averaging three fines a year, usually for speeding. A few days ago he got three black points for parking on a kerb.

Beware of foreigners

Shaikha Mohamed Al Muhairi, 44, started driving only two years ago, but says she is much safer than the many foreign drivers who have imported bad habits from their home countries, such as not signalling and being impatient.

"I consider myself to be safe because I'm not hesitant or a risky driver, I leave my distance," she says. "A bad driver is someone who doesn't care about someone else's life, and someone who doesn't respect the road signals."

A government worker in charge of Abu Dhabi's libraries, she incurred fines of Dh700 last year for speeding in her Cadillac, but insists she is usually cautious, always wearing her seat belt and insisting her passengers do the same.

Nevertheless, she admits there are areas to work on. "I want to improve, whether it is the new year or not," she says. "We are adults, we should be more respectful on the roads."

Be economical

Saeed Al Janahi, 22, an economics researcher who drives an Audi A7, incurs two or three fines a month commuting weekly between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Six months ago he paid Dh8,000 in speeding fines and he's hoping that next year his money will be spent more wisely. "Instead of paying such an amount of money on fines I can spend it on something beneficial," he says.

Saeed also admits other drivers often make him "nervous and upset", and he is planning to "calm down".

Become the "boss"

Ahmed Al Kalbani says other drivers often irritate him. Slow drivers annoy him, and so do the fast ones who try to overtake him. And when he is irritated, he tends to speed.

The 27-year-old economist tries not to speed, but sometimes can't help himself. He recently bought a new Nissan Patrol, and the car makes him feel like a "boss" on the road. He says his new car encourages him to speed, and while he hasn't had many fines so far - about Dh1,400 he estimates - he realises that may be about to change in 2013.

But fines are only one indicator of a driver's abilities, he cautions. "To be a good driver one must follow the signs, keep to the speed limit, and respect other drivers as well as pedestrians on the road."

Keep a clean sheet

Abdulla Al Neyadi, 25, from Al Ain, has not been fined since buying his new Land Cruiser about five months ago and he hopes to keep that clean sheet in 2013. Last year, before buying the Land Cruiser, the data administrator had to stump up about Dh4,000 for fines for both speeding and for not wearing his seatbelt.

"It is not possible that a driver will not get any fines, no matter how focused you are you will overlook the road at some point," he says. "But I hope to stay fine free."

Ditch the BlackBerry

Abdulrahman Al Zaabi, 20, recently paid Dh3,000 in speeding fines and still has Dh4,000 outstanding. He also has nine black points on his driving licence and 12 points on his car, an Audi A6, for various traffic infringements.

The law student's Audi was impounded last February, and he paid an extra Dh3,000 to save it from being parked in the sun.

"I always use my BlackBerry for entertainment," he says. "I wish to leave my BlackBerry while driving, and maybe slow down a bit."

Stop texting

Salem Al Marzouqi, a 25-year-old administrator and trainee accountant who drives a Lexus LS460, "always" speeds on the motorway and "normally" uses his mobile phone as well. Last year he incurred between 10 and 15 fines, mostly for speeding.

"I will try to stop texting because I know when you drive and text you are bound to lose focus on the road," he says.

His Lexus has been impounded before, but he says he always has a spare car to complete his errands.

Educate others

Salem Al Qamzi, 30, admits that he "used to text and drive but I'm trying to cut back. I used to chat before, now I would just check my messages if I had to."

He has paid Dh1,600 in fines over the past two years, but says he doesn't take risks on the road, knowing when to speed and when to keep his distance. He thinks most people who accumulate large fines are careless.

"If there is a fine, most people who have the money just pay," he says.

He drives a Chevrolet Silverado while commuting in Abu Dhabi and speeds only if he's "in the mood". He admits that when he's driving a sports car, he's usually in the mood.

"It is not only speed that causes accidents, it is mostly the lack of concentration," he says. The key to a safer new year, he thinks, is educating new drivers. "Many don't wear their seat belts because there is no warning against it," he says. "Some drivers stick to the laws, but others need a specific programme to make them understand our road systems."