ABU DHABI // Road safety remains high on the agenda in the UAE, with the number of people killed or seriously injured decreasing every year.
Six years after three Emirati girls and their nanny died after being hit by a car in a tragedy that triggered The National's Road to Safety campaign, huge investments in infrastructure, education and improved enforcement of traffic laws have been brought in to protect pedestrians and other road users.
“Raising the level for the priority of road safety has been successful and this is important to ensure that the correct level of investment is put in place,” said Simon Labbett, regional director for the Transport Research Laboratory, a UK consultancy.
The latest nationwide statistics show an 8.1 per cent drop from 1,340 to 1,232 in the number of traffic accidents in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year. Deaths were reduced by 39, from 186 to 147, and injuries from 1,976 to 1,684.
Brig Gen Ghaith Al Zaabi, director general of traffic at the Ministry of Interior, attributed the results to police efforts to improve traffic safety.
The ministry's traffic-safety goal, he said, was for the UAE to achieve a reduction in road deaths to three for each 100,000 people by 2021. The long-term goal is to achieve zero fatalities on the road by 2030.
Road safety is a long journey that requires constant attention and focus, Mr Labbett said.
“Road safety without political engagement and sufficient budgets will fail to gain traction.”
On June 29, 2009, Shaikha Al Mansouri, 4, her sisters Damayer, 6, and Mariam, 7, and their nanny were trying to cross to Carrefour on Airport Road when they were hit by a speeding vehicle. The girls died at the scene and the nanny suffered brain injuries, leading to death 10 months later.
“I can say that the roads are much safer now,” said Ammar Al Tayeb, 50, a driving instructor from Sudan. “We now have more bridges and fences along streets to prevent jaywalking.”
Median fences, pedestrian bridges and mid-block signals are being built across the city. Police have introduced a speed management strategy, increased enforcement and invested in automated traffic control devices.
Pedestrian deaths have fallen by 54 per cent in Abu Dhabi over the past five years. The emirate also recorded a drop in traffic accidents by 40 per cent, deaths by 35 per cent and serious injuries by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
The number of traffic accidents fell by 11 per cent in the first quarter of this year in Abu Dhabi. Traffic fatalities decreased from 64 to 54, while serious injuries were down from 72 to 38.
In the first five months of this year, 62 people were killed on Dubai's roads. Dubai Police recorded 612 incidents with 936 people injured. In the first four months of last year, Dubai Police recorded 932 accidents and 69 deaths, with 722 people injured.
“Our road driving ‘culture’ in the UAE is evolving very slowly due to the constantly changing members of our communities,” said Robert Hodges, chief operating officer at Emirates Driving Institute. “Many people bring to this country the bad habits and poor driving practices they have seen in other countries.”
An area for further development is ensuring drivers know the speed limits, Mr Labbett said. “Ask drivers what the maximum speed limit is and you’d likely be told 140kph. This is the enforcement threshold. The maximum speed limit is 120kph. Speeds of 140kph are too high for the engineering standards of the infrastructure. If we want to continue to reduce the number of casualties, we need to reduce the enforcement thresholds so drivers focus on the speed limit and not the speed that triggers a violation.”
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