One third fewer died on Ramadan roads this year

At least one driver admits heavy fines are behind his slower motoring, while Police credit awareness and their presence.

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Road deaths across six of the seven emirates dropped by a thirdt during Ramadan this year from the year before, according to data released yesterday. Traffic officials attribute the reduction to increased public awareness of the importance of safe driving.

Nationwide, there were 49 deaths in 2010, down from 72 in 2009. The number of injuries also fell, from 840 to 632, a drop of a quarter. Overall, accidents were down by just over a quartert, from 509 to 371. In Abu Dhabi, there were 27 deaths and 37 severe injuries this year, down from 50 deaths and 50 severe injuries last year. Brig Gen Ghaith al Zaabi, the general director for traffic co-ordination at the Ministry of Interior, said that traffic officials around the country increased their patrols during Ramadan and Eid this year, which contributed to the drop in numbers.

"The ongoing road safety campaigns and strategy helped in increasing people's awareness, which resulted in better driving habits," he added. The figures provided by the Ministry of Interior exclude Dubai, as it registers its own statistics. During Eid, three accidents causing five injuries were reported in Dubai, officials said. No figures were immediately available for the Ramadan period. Bassem Balqis, a 23-year-old travel and tourism graduate from Palestine who commutes daily between Fujairah and Sharjah, said: "Usually, when driving in the last hours before iftar, there is a lot of tailgating and people are trying to reach home, so in a way, everybody is trying to get you out of the way."

However, Mr Balqis said, he saw less "aggressive driving" this Ramadan, adding that improved awareness and a greater number of speed cameras were behind the improvements. "I myself used to overspeed a lot last year, but I got fined a lot, so I stopped," he said. This year's Eid break was also a safer one than last year's; there were 39 accidents during the period this year, and 76 injuries, down from 107 accidents and 76 injuries in 2009. The number of fatalities decreased from 25 to 5. However, the Eid holiday this year was two days shorter than it was last year.

Mohammed al Daqqaq, a 27-year-old public relations worker from Jordan who lives in Abu Dhabi, said he did not witness any accidents during Eid. "I don't think it was because people have more awareness, the awareness level is the same," he said. "The roads were almost empty because everybody was away on holiday, so there was nothing to stress about." Maissa Raef, a 24-year-old Palestinian marketing worker, drove from Ajman to Dubai every day during Ramadan and Eid and said the roads were more organised this year, with less traffic.

"When you feel you are being watched and constantly monitored, you will be forced to follow the rules and drive well," she said. "Now people are even scared of changing lanes without giving a signal." But not everyone saw it that way. Simon Labbett, regional director of the Transport Research Laboratory, said drivers tended to be more aggressive this Eid, as if they were going back to the driving habits "of the old days".

He said the accident and fatality statistics were reason for hope, but that realistic figures could be seen only with a larger sample size. "What we have seen in recent weeks is that there has been more concentrated efforts by the police," he said. "They are not only monitoring drivers everywhere, but there is also visible enforcement: they are stopping cars, talking to drivers, which is showing a positive effect."