Deaths on roads cut by 40% in five years

As the UAE marks the beginning of GCC traffic week, the emirate's top traffic official pledges to make the streets safer.

Dubai will have one of the best road safety records in the world in five years, the emirate's transport chief has claimed. Mattar al Tayer, the chairman of the board and executive director of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), outlined his aim during a speech to mark the launch of the GCC traffic week yesterday.

Mr al Tayer announced that the number of road deaths in the emirate had decreased by 40 per cent in the past five years. By 2015, he said the number of fatalities would drop to "levels comparable to those prevailing in the world's best cities". Last year, Dubai's road fatality rate was 12 deaths per 100,000 population last year compared with 21 deaths per 100,000 in 2005. Countries considered to have excellent road safety records include Japan, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden, all of which have around five deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report on Road Safety, which was released last summer.

Police and traffic officials around the UAE are participating in the awareness campaign, which is running under the theme "Beware of others' faults." "We are focusing on different locations including schools, and especially universities, where we will hold 45 per cent of our activities," said Hussian al Banna, the director of traffic at the RTA. "It is really important to make people aware of the safety aspects and issues."

A UN commission of 13 countries, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon, last year set a goal of reducing traffic fatalities by 30 per cent by 2015. Ministry of Interior figures that show 963 motorists were killed in traffic accidents across the UAE last year, while the toll was 1,072 in 2008. Police say there has been a 10 per cent reduction countrywide in road fatalities in the two years since the introduction of a black points system and tougher fines for motorists that started in March 2008.

In Abu Dhabi, police reported yesterday that traffic deaths are on the decline. It said there were 74 deaths on the emirate's roads in the first 73 days of the year, compared to 104 in the same period last year. Other events to mark GCC traffic week were held across the Emirates. Police in the capital were increasing patrols. "There will also be patrols based in petrol stations and around government buildings to talk to the people face-to-face," said Major Ahmed al Neyadi, head of media for Abu Dhabi traffic police. "Our main goal is to offer advice and guidance."

Patrols were noticeably stepped up in the Garden City, where 106 people lost their lives in 675 road accidents last year. Another 866 people were injured and 968,300 tickets were issued in 2009, according to Lt Col Hamad al Balouchi, the head of Al Ain Police's traffic section. At a Baby Shop in the city, Bal Bahadur Dhungel, a salesman from Nepal, stood by a display of child safety seats explaining their benefits to parents.

His shop sells seats ranging from Dh199 to Dh1,750, but by the end of the morning, he had not sold a single one. "Our shop in Dubai sells a lot of these seats," Mr Dhungel said. "But in Al Ain not many people use them. Many people didn't even know what they were for so I had to explain that when properly installed a baby seat prevents a child from being thrown about in the car in case of an accident."

In Ajman, police said they would install six more radars and 20 cameras at traffic signals to catch people jumping signals. Col Ali Saeed al Matroushi, the head of Ajman Police's traffic section, said road fatalities in the emirate had fallen from 56 in 2008 to 27 in 2009. In Sharjah, police and students are also participating in traffic week. Col Mubarak Abdullah al Dukhan, the deputy director of Sharjah Police, said drivers need to take responsibility for safety on the roads.

"As a driver you have control of your car and can avoid accidents by using restraint when others carelessly cross into your lane, try to overtake you on the wrong side or when a pedestrian bumps into the road," he said. * Eugene Harnan, Haneen Dajani, Matthew Chung, Yasin Kakande and Essam al Ghalib contributed to this report