UAE explained: variable speed limits, tailgating and other changes to Abu Dhabi's roads

Motorists are getting to grips with several new regulations introduced to boost safety

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., January 7, 2018.  Early morning fog on Muroor Road.
Victor Besa / The National
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People driving up and down Abu Dhabi's roads may have spotted a few changes in recent months.

From the introduction of tailgating cameras and toll gates to the increasing use of variable speed limits during bouts of bad weather, police and transport authorities in the emirate have stepped up efforts to make driving safer.

Motorists may wonder, what does it mean when that sign says "left lane for overtaking"? And how do we know when the speed limit has been changed during bad weather?

The National explains the changes to the rules of the road in the capital.

How does the 80kph speed limit work during bad weather?

This rule was introduced in early 2019 and has been enforced numerous times, most recently during a spell of early morning dense fog at the beginning of February. It means at times when visibility is reduced due to sandstorms, heavy rain or fog, the speed limit will be reduced to 80 kilometres per hour on Abu Dhabi’s motorways. It is not optional.

When the digital signs say the speed limit is 80kph, it means the limit has officially been changed to this speed and anyone driving faster than that will be fined, police told The National.

How do we know the speed limit has been changed?

Abu Dhabi Police inform the public in several ways: by sending out an emergency alert warning, displaying the new speed on digital road signs on smart gates, changing the speed limit on variable speed signs at the side of highways and by posting on social media.

Police decide when to do this using weather reports, fog sensors installed on smart gates that estimate the visibility range, and reports from police patrols.

Road users should be alert to variable speed signs on the side of the road and variable message signs on smart traffic gates

Once the speed limit has been changed back, the variable speed signs will be switched off and the 80kph limit will disappear from the digital signs on the smart gates. Text messages may also be sent out to motorists in a certain area and social media accounts will be updated.

What if the fog has lifted in the section of road I am driving in? Is it OK to drive at the normal speed limit again?

No, do not drive faster until you see the changes above, or you risk being fined.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that if the sign says the speed limit reduction is in place, it still is – even if a particular stretch of road is clear of fog or heavy rain at that moment. Numerous people have found out the hard way, with some racking up hundreds of dirhams of fines as a result.

"Road users should not drive at the regular speed limit simply once 'they' determine it is safe to do so. Instead Abu Dhabi police is the authority which determines when it is safe to drive at regular speeds," Capt Mohammed Al Eisaei, head of the Traffic Studies and Research Branch at Abu Dhabi Police told The National.

“Road users should be alert to variable speed signs on the side of the road and variable message signs on smart traffic gates which clearly display the current speed limit of the highway.”

What about tailgating cameras?

This safety initiative is more recent, having been introduced in January. Abu Dhabi Police now uses technology that can identify and fine people who fail to leave a safe distance between their vehicle and the one in front.

People found culpable of tailgating receive a text message warning them on the first offence and are fined every time they do it thereafter. And the penalty is more than simply a monetary fine. Motorists caught flouting the rule are slapped with four black points, in addition to a Dh400 penalty.

Police have not clarified what distance they deem to be tailgating. It is understood to depend on the speed of the road. But road safety experts suggest a driver should keep a space of at least two seconds between themselves and the car in front, so it could be a calculation based on that rule

Large white dots have been painted on some sections of roads to give drivers guidance on the distance they should from the vehicle in front.

However, police have also cautioned that if the road is unpaved, the weather is poor, or the vehicle in front is a lorry, a distance of more than two seconds should be left between vehicles. So that is worth bearing in mind.

The change was made after research showed tailgating was one of the biggest causes of serious accidents in 2018 and 2019. About 180 drivers were fined for tailgating in the first five days after the system was switched on.

What about those who do not move out of the way?

They will also be fined, although this is not part of the new tailgating laws as some people have suggested, rather it is an existing rule, more specifically Article 84. It penalises drivers who block a car from passing them by slapping them with a Dh400 fine, too. They are the target of that message you may have seen on the digital motorway signs on smart gates recently, which says "left hand lane is for overtaking", or do not hog the fast lane.

How will police know if they are blocking me?

That has yet to be clarified by police. Technology is capable of monitoring cars over a distance – shown by average speed cameras in operation in countries such as the UK. But it is not known if this is in use here.

What about those who drive 20, 30 or even 40kph less than the maximum speed on motorways in the second left-hand lane? 

The main problem with slow drivers in the second lane is they can prevent a car driving in the fast lane from giving way to a car behind, as it is not safe for the driver to switch to the second left-hand lane as the other motorist is driving so much slower.

In an ideal world, the lanes on the right, particularly those closest to the far side of the road, would be used by slower drivers. But that is not always the case. And that has prompted police to issue drivers with reminders.

What is the latest news on Abu Dhabi’s toll gates?

Four toll gates are in place at four bridges in Abu Dhabi. The National 
Four toll gates are in place at four bridges in Abu Dhabi. The National 

Abu Dhabi announced last summer that the city would introduce a road toll system, with gates at each of the four bridges linking the mainland to the island - Al Maqta, Mussaffah, Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Khalifa bridges.

The Department of Transport confirmed the toll gates were switched on at the beginning of January, after a three-month trial period when motorists did not incur any charges.

But when they were activated on January 2, authorities announced there would be a three-month grace period for unregistered vehicles after dozens claimed they were unable to upload their cars' details to the system.

The Department of Transport has not yet clarified a query from The National about whether road toll charges are accumulating during the registration grace period, from January 2 to April 2.

Officials said charges would only be levied during peak periods, between 7am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm, Saturday to Thursday. Motorists pay Dh4 each time they pass through the gates up to a maximum fee of Dh16 per day.