Seven years after deaths of Emirati sisters, a look at UAE road safety

Since then awareness campaigns, strict enforcement and improved traffic systems have helped cut the number of road deaths in the UAE.

Floral tributes left on Airport Road in Abu Dhabi after three sisters were killed in an accident seven years ago. Stephen Lock / The National
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Three young sisters bled to death on an Abu Dhabi road in 2009 after being hit by a speeding vehicle. The accident led to stricter traffic laws and increased protection to road users.

ABU DHABI // Seven years ago today, three little Emirati sisters were killed while trying to cross Airport Road, prompting The National to launch its Road to Safety campaign.

On June 29, 2009, Shaikha Al Mansouri, 4, and her sisters Damayer, 6, and Mariam, 7, died while trying to reach Carrefour near Sheikh Zayed Sports City. They and their nanny were hit by a speeding driver.

The numbers of pedestrians killed have since been cut, after awareness campaigns were launched, traffic laws more strictly enforced and footbridges built throughout the emirate.

Authorities have also branched out to tackle other road hazards such as speeding, tailgating, driving while using mobile phones, not wearing seat belts and jaywalking.

“The ongoing commitment for road-safety education programmes in Abu Dhabi is to be commended,” said Dino Kalivas, chairman of driver education and training committee of the International Road Federation, which promotes safer roads.

"On the education and training side, Abu Dhabi has introduced school bus driver safety and regulations for transporting schoolchildren, and we've seen an improved curriculum for those applying for driving licences."

Traffic police have been more vigilant in enforcement and with awareness programmes to help curb dangerous driving.

"On the infrastructure side, Abu Dhabi has much improved and better street signs, improved new roads, pedestrian overpasses, new technology and real-time information gantries, and traffic calming points," Mr Kalivas said.

Median fences, footbridges, mid-block signals, speed humps and speed zone control markings are being installed across the UAE.

Twelve bridges are being built in Abu Dhabi this year to ensure safety for pedestrians and maintain traffic flow.

Ten are being introduced by the Roads and Transport Authority in black spot areas in Dubai, where a high number of pedestrians have been run over.

And last month, the Sharjah Urban Planning Council approved the designs of five pedestrian bridges, which will be built across Al Ittihad Road, Al Taawun Street, King Faisal Street and King Abdulaziz Street.

"The UAE has taken great strides in their efforts to improve safety," said Michael Dreznes, IRF's executive vice president. The statistics show some progress. Forty-eight pedestrians died last year, compared with 54 in 2014.

Road deaths in Abu Dhabi fell by 8 per cent last year, down to 245 deaths from 267 in 2014. Countrywide, the number of road deaths dropped by 5.2 per cent to 675 last year, from 712 in 2014.

Brig Ghaith Al Zaabi, director general of the traffic coordination at the Ministry of Interior, said police efforts to improve safety and create a safe traffic environment were responsible for the drop.

“The UAE is working hard to contribute to the Government’s UAE Vision 2021 and to help reduce traffic fatality rates from 5.99 per 100,000 people last year to 3 by 2021,” said Thomas Edelmann, founder of the website RoadSafetyUAE.

Last month, Brig Hussain Al Harthi, director general of central operations at Abu Dhabi Police, said they were looking at removing the 50 per cent discount on unpaid traffic fines.

The move, which has yet to take effect, was in response to the increase in the number of road deaths in the emirate from 54 to 77 in the first three months of this year, compared with the corresponding period last year.

The Federal Traffic Council in April suggested that reckless drivers be jailed for 24 hours for not following the rules of the road or exceeding the speed limit by more than 60kph.

While safety experts agree that things are improving, they believe much more needs to be done to make the UAE roads safer.

Khaled Al Mansoori, chief executive of Emirates Driving Company, said there should be sustained road safety campaigns to improve the behaviour of drivers, pedestrians and other road users.

“You’ll need influential people to serve as road-safety ambassadors.” “They can be top government officials, famous people in sports and well-known actors who are role models and can champion the cause of road safety.”

Simon Labbett, project director at Omani road safety body Sheida, said: "There is much to do but rather than trying to do everything, we should concentrate on the priorities set by the World Health Organisation – mandatory use of seat belts for rear passengers and child seats."

The UAE, Mr Dreznes said, needed to adopt a holistic road safety strategy to tackle road problems.

“This strategy should incorporate efforts to improve road user behaviour, the safety levels of the vehicles and the use of best practices to make the roads safer,” he said.

rruiz@thenational.ae