Fifty years behind the wheel, and not a scratch

Ali Rashid bin Yousef named as the best driver in Umm Al Quwain as part of Gulf Traffic Week's road safety campaigns.

March 21, 2012, Umm Al Quwain, UAE:

Ali Bin Rashin Youssef was given an award by the city of Umm Al Quwain to commemorate his 50 years of driving without a single traffic violation. Now retired, Mr. Youssef spends his days raising camels and, naturally, observing the speed limits.

Lee Hoagland/The National
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UMM AL QUWAIN // There were hardly any roads to drive on when Ali Rashid bin Yousef first got behind the wheel of a car.

Getting to places from his home in Umm Al Quwain involved rumbling down dirt tracks or across sand dunes.

Half a century later, the roads have improved but the Emirati's driving has remained the same - excellent.

Mr bin Yousef, 70, has not had an accident or received a traffic fine in 50 years. His outstanding record led to him being named the best driver in UAQ as part of the recent Gulf Traffic Week road-safety campaign.

Mr bin Yousef was one of the first locals to receive a driving licence when they were introduced in UAQ in 1960.

"There were no roads at that time, just sand and hills," he said. "You needed a good, big and strong car to go through the sand. The trip to Oman was the most dangerous."

Being able to drive well made him a popular man.

"In those days discipline in driving mattered and a good driver would be famous - all people would want to go on his car," Mr bin Yousef said.

Being one of the few willing to brave the trip from Dubai to Oman meant he, and his old Chevrolet, were much in demand.

"There were times when one had to park on top of a hill in the desert. If the brakes were not enough you had to put an extra tyre or wood behind every tyre to stop the car from moving."

Now retired, the grandfather of 40 spends his time taking care of his four-legged transport rather than the four-wheeled kind.

"I have about 40 camels here" in Umm Al Quwain's Al Suraya area, Mr bin Yousef said. "It is a good retirement for someone who was hard-working all his life."

He still drives these days and owns three cars - a Toyota Land Cruiser, a Lexus and a Rav4. He says he can still handle long distances, and has made the trip to Saudi Arabia and back to Oman.

They say good habits are learnt at home, and Mr bin Yousef has been a good teacher to his three sons and two daughters.

"I have been a driver for the last 15 years and still have no accident or traffic violation," said his son Maj Ahmed Ali Yousef, 34, who works with the Umm Al Quwain Naturalisation and Foreign Affairs Department.

"No one among my brothers or sisters have had an accident. For us road discipline starts at home," he said.

The number of young Emiratis who die on the UAE's roads each year, often as a result of speeding, dismays the elder Mr bin Yousef.

"I always tell my children and grandchildren that their life is important, and the best way to enjoy the fine roads this country has made is by staying alive," he said.

"This is our country. We have to speak to our children. It would be very painful for an old man like me to bury his own children."

Mr bin Yousef often travels in his children's cars and keeps a close eye on the way they drive. Any bad techniques are quickly reproached.

"There is another big problem of using mobile phones while driving," said Mr Yousef. "All these new technologies are to help simplify life, not take it. Young people should learn they live once, and cannot enjoy those mobile phones in graves or hospitals."