Underage driving is a necessity in villages

After two brothers died in a crash this week in Ras al Khaimah, relatives say teenage boys often must drive to help their families.

Mangled remains of the car the brothers were driving.
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RAS AL KHAIMAH // Rashed and Obaid al Mazrooei were driving to a youth centre a few kilometres from their home in Al Ghai when they died. Rashed was 15. His brother Obaid was 16, the same age as the driver of the 4x4 they struck head-on.

All three boys were in the cars late on Tuesday afternoon because they had to be, family members said. "Their parents teach them [to drive] because their fathers work in other places," said Ahmad al Mazrooei, 16, a cousin of the brothers. "It's a need, not a want." Letting teenage boys drive is a normal part of village life, and some say it is necessary because the adults, especially fathers, often cannot be there.

Many consider it an important responsibility of teenage boys. "Most of the older mothers, they don't want to drive and they don't know how," Ahmad said. "Most of them, like the grandmothers, they need someone to take them to the farm. And old people can't drive because of their eyes. "From 14, 15 they [boys] must help. Who else would help us?" Ahmad said he learnt to drive in the desert at 13 and later practised on the family farm before being given chores such as driving his grandmother to the clinic or collecting his brothers and sisters from wherever they may be.

"When [young drivers] have control, when they have speed, then we let them go to limited places and only in the village," Ahmad said. "Families here don't give them the car freely, but when they need them, they let them go." By the time boys reach the legal driving age of 18, he said, they usually are already working in Abu Dhabi or another large city. Some women in the village, however, said the accident should represent bringing end to such tolerance of underage drivers.

"We have to stop this," said Rowaya Salem, a 34-year-old mother of three and a teacher who supervises at Al Ghail Youth Club, the al Mazrooei brothers' destination on Tuesday. "The parents here don't like that they are driving." Aaesha al Mazrooei, 22, a teacher and aunt of the brothers, said police officers needed tighter control and less leniency when confronting underage drivers. "They have to enforce a strong law to stop young people from driving." Ms al Mazrooei said. "I think that the police have to have regular patrols. They have to be often and they have to be a surprise."

Officials in Ras al Khaimah say they are trying to improve enforcement. "We try to stop that problem," said Col Nasser Muradad, the director of the RAK Traffic and Licensing Department. "People don't know the problem until it comes. I spoke with all our staff. We have to make more controls now and not just inside in the city." The police said underage drivers were involved with six per cent of road accidents last year.

The brothers' village has been in shock since the news of their deaths. Today marks the third and final day of mourning for their relatives. Police said the boys were headed east down a secondary road after dropping off two of their brothers at an uncle's house. About 5.30pm, as they approached the youth centre, another teenage driver headed in the opposite direction tried to pass a lorry and hit them grille to grille, police say.

The driver of the other car was hospitalised with moderate injuries. The brothers' family also expressed concern about the 20-minute drive to the nearest hospital in Al Dhaid, noting that it increases the risk of fatality and leads to reckless driving by families rushing to get there. "The system here is not good with police, with the hospital," Ms Salem said. "Here, it's no problem if children without licenses are driving."

Mourners also complained about the roads, which they say have become worn and congested with heavy industrial traffic from nearby rock-crushing operations. "The main problem is not about the children driving, it's about the street," said Rashed al Mazrooei, 37, an uncle of the brothers who works in Abu Dhabi. "For companies, they have beautiful roads; for the people, no way. When you go outside, check the roads for the people and the roads for the company."

"We said to them before that we need better roads," added Salem al Mazrooei, 30, another uncle. "This case is not only here in this village. If you go inside Adhen, you will see bad, bad streets. This is not the first accident here. More and more accidents are coming with the trucks." Residents would like roads to be widened so drivers can negotiate more safely around lorries. They say they have also made requests for better signage and traffic-calming bumps to hinder speeding.

"Each family has a different idea," said Shaikha Fadel, 24, an aunt of the victims and teacher in Ras al Khaimah. "The son of my sister is small. Why did he go alone? Where is he now? He is dead now." azacharias@thenational.ae