UAE driving: Fatal consequences of erratic motoring

Speeding, talking on mobile phones, tailgating at high speeds and failing to check mirrors are just some of the problems on UAE roads, according to driving instructors.

Weng Valenzuela, a driving instructor with Al Muqadam Motor Driving company, emphasises the importance of defensive driving anywhere. Silvia Razgova / The National
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When you ask an expert what the main driver errors are on the roads of the UAE, they don't have to think for very long: speeding, talking on mobile phones, tailgating at high speeds and failing to check mirrors were just some of the problems rattled off by driving instructors who spoke to The National this week.

Careless and erratic driving directly translates into accidents and deaths. Although the number of accidents fell in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year, there were still more than 100 people killed in Dubai in the first 11 months of 2012.

In Abu Dhabi, more than 150 people died in the first 10 months of last year.

The capital recently launched its first road safety campaign of the year, which will focus on pedestrians, as this group made up one third of its road deaths last year.

But opinion, among both experts and drivers, was divided on whether the driving habits in the UAE are worse than those seen in other countries.

Weng Valenzuela has been a driving instructor in the UAE for the last seven years and "the worst thing" she spots on the country's roads is speeding.

"Usually in a 60kph limit they do 80kph or 90kph, which is dangerous," said the 52-year-old from the Philippines.

But she would still rather get behind a wheel in the UAE than take to the roads in her home country. "In the Philippines, I went there for a vacation and I was afraid to drive because they drive too close together. I'm not used to it anymore," she said.

Fellow instructor and Filipina Joseline Simpelo, who has been teaching people to negotiate Abu Dhabi's roads since 1990, believes the opposite.

"The driving is worse here because the cars here are speeding. In my country, you cannot speed as there is a lot of congestion. The thing here is that the road is very wide - four or five lanes - that's why people have room to speed," she said.

"They are aggressive drivers. They are showing off that they have a new car, like 'I have a Lamborghini', this sort of thing."

The 54-year-old also believes the multicultural nature of society in the UAE has an impact. "Every nationality, they think they are better than everyone at driving, they compete with each other," she said.

Safety consultant Dr Robert Lee Reams, from the United States, has been working in the Middle East for 25 years and said people still do not adhere to safe driving practices.

"One of the number one problems is that this particular environment is so fluid - you have a lot of people coming and a lot of people going. A lot of people are coming with bad habits," he said.

"When people's lives are on the line, everyone needs to become more caring and a little more understanding. Here, I would say people are just focusing on 'I have to get from point A to point B - I don't care what I do to get there."

Andreea Barbu, 28, from France, has been living in Abu Dhabi for 18 months and is not a fan of the driving she witnesses on the emirate's roads. "I think driving here is very dangerous," she said.

"People are not paying attention to anybody. On the motorway, people are in the wrong lanes. It's very difficult to get used to that. People drive fast in the slow lane and slow in the fast lane.

"What shocked me was that children are everywhere in the car. They are not in their seats, they are playing everywhere."

Mansour Mohammad, from Australia, has lived in the UAE for 10 years and describes the driving as "very challenging and dangerous". "Every road here is a highway," the 38-year-old Dubai-based civil engineer said.

"People here don't do signals and they don't abide by the rules. They just swerve into the lanes without giving indications."

However, Egyptian Hatem Younig, who lives in Abu Dhabi, has a very different view. "I find driving here perfect compared with Egypt," the 56-year-old electronic archiving expert said.

"The standard of driving needs some improvement from the youngest, with regards to speeding and changing lanes, but I think the driving standard here is better than Egypt - 100 per cent."