UAE roads are among the most deadly: UN

Officials urge Emirates reduce speed limits and get tougher on drink-driving to lower death rate for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists

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NEW YORK // UN health chiefs have urged the Government to tighten motoring laws after a report that ranks the UAE's roads as among the deadliest in the world. The Global Status Report on Road Safety, released on Monday by the World Health Organisation (WHO), shows that UAE road users are almost seven times more likely to be killed than those in Britain.

The report reveals that 37.1 people were killed on roads in the Emirates for every 100,000 people in 2007, the latest year for which UAE statistics are available - a dismal record that is worse even than poor-performers in the developing world such as Sudan, Tanzania and Chad. Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO's director general, said the poor safety record of the Emirates, like many of its neighbours, "deserves our highest attention" and called on officials to take action.

"The United Arab Emirates has a death rate, per 100,000 population, of 37.1," said Tami Toroyan, a WHO technical officer. "Compare this to the UK for example, which is 5.4, and the figure is extremely high. "Even compared to the global average of 18.8, it is really high. It is a dangerous place to be on the roads - either as a pedestrian or a driver, and there needs to be more focus on vulnerable road users."

The number of vulnerable road users being killed was worryingly high, with pedestrians constituting 28 per cent of casualties and motorbike riders and cyclists making up another two per cent, she said. A lack of bridges, road crossings and cycle paths puts pedestrians and cyclists - who often rank among "the poorer parts of the population" - at greater danger, added the official. "They have good cars and good roads in the UAE - but there's a lack of priority for pedestrians and cyclists," said Ms Toroyan, who noted that pedestrians often had "to dodge their way through several lanes of fast traffic" when crossing highways.

The Government should slash urban road speed limits from 60km/h to 50km/h and toughen drink-driving rules by halving the permitted blood alcohol content limit, which is currently 0.1 grams per decilitre, she said. Seat-belt laws are not stringent enough because there is no obligation on back-seat passengers to buckle-up, while only 61 per cent of those in the front-seats obey the law and wear the devices, she added.

"If you've only got 61 per cent of your front seat occupants wearing seat belts, we are presuming that there's a much smaller rate of those in the rear seats, since there's no law," she said. "The laws need to be revised and amended to what we call good practice." The 287-page report said 86 per cent of the 1,754,420 vehicles registered in the UAE in 2007 were motor cars, with trucks (seven per cent), minibuses and vans (two per cent) and buses (two per cent) making up most of the remainder.

The police recorded 1,056 fatal and 11,155 non-fatal accidents in the same year, although casualty figures were probably much higher because of deaths occurring away from crash scenes. Men make up 87 per cent of casualties and women 13 per cent. The UAE is the worst performer in the region, with significantly more road deaths per head of population than Bahrain (12.1 per 100,000), Kuwait (16.9 per 100,000), Oman (21.3 per 100,000), Qatar (23.7 per 100,000), Saudi Arabia (29 per 100,000) and even Yemen (29.3 per 100,000).

Only a small number of countries studied in the report, which covers 178 nations and more than 98 per cent of the world's population, have a worse record, including Angola (37.7 deaths per 100,000 people), Eritrea (48.4) and Libya (40.5). The first global assessment of road safety found that pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists made up almost half the estimated 1.27 million killed each year on roads around the world.

"We found that in many countries, the laws necessary to protect people are either not in place or are not comprehensive. And even when there is adequate legislation, most countries report that their enforcement is low," said Dr Chan. "We are not giving sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists many of whom end up in clinics and hospitals. We must do better if we are to halt or reverse the rise in road traffic injuries, disability and deaths."