I can’t exactly say I’ve ever taken to driving. Even in New York, where traffic drips rather than flows and where a handy grid makes a wrong turn easily rectifiable, I’m ill at ease behind the wheel. But I have a UAE driving licence, and though the thought of tackling Dubai’s manic roads makes me break out into a cold sweat, I’m eager to use it. The problem is, I don’t trust Dubai’s drivers, and seeing as it’s been several (and I mean several) years since I’ve sat in the driver’s seat, I’ve been hesitant to hit the road.
The solution comes in the form of the Emirates Driving Institute (EDI), which offers a four-hour defensive driving course aimed at creating safer drivers (there is a full-day option as well). The course, featuring lectures and driving practice, is for licence holders like myself who are looking to stay safe on these manic roads. It’s a shame the course is voluntary and not required of every driver in Dubai.
According to my lecturer, Mushtaqe Ahmed, I’m right to fear the Dubai roads. The session starts out with some sobering statistics: driving in Dubai is six times more dangerous than driving in Canada or north-west Europe, and drivers here are 22 times more likely to die in an accident. Between 2006 and 2007, there was a 15.5 per cent increase in the number of vehicles on the roads, yet a 47 per cent increase in accidents. There is an accident in Dubai every two minutes, and one in three drivers will have one in the next six months. I don’t like those odds. Mr Ahmed smiles. ‘That’s why you’re here!’ he says.
Dubai’s diversity – normally its winning asset – is one reason why it is so accident-prone. Every culture’s attitude towards driving is different, and driving rules vary wildly from country to country. Aside from the fact that many Dubaians are used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, these differences in driving culture are bound to result in some clashes (and crashes). Another factor is the high percentage of new drivers, not to mention the city’s constantly shifting landscape.
In addition to a series of bloody and disturbing videos about the dangers of not buckling up, or of not leaving enough space between cars, the first hour and a half of the course is dedicated to explaining the psychology of drivers. Ahmed introduces the concept of emotional intelligence and presents various scenarios that tend to inspire rage in drivers, such as getting cut off or being tailgated. Practising ‘emotional intelligence’ means choosing not to let these situations make you angry. The simple act of breathing deeply and not getting fussed, he explains, could save lives. He then states the class motto, which he repeats several times throughout the day: ‘Your safety, it’s up to you.’
After a brief question and answer period, it’s time for me to climb into the driver’s seat, though before we do, my driving instructor, Khalid Javed, takes me on a tour of the car. This I find fascinating. I know nothing about mechanics, and I’m stunned by how simple it seems. Because a well-maintained car contributes to safe driving, Javed makes sure I learn how to check the tyre pressure and when to change the different oils. Once we’ve assessed the safety of the car (provided by EDI), we hit the road. This is the part that scares me most. However, as much as I fear the drivers around me, I find it’s my own driving that is most worrisome. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven, and it shows. Javed advises me to verbalise all my manoeuvres, which definitely makes me more conscious and alert on the road.
It’s clear that my driving is far from perfect (part of the reason I had decided to sign up for the class, and why I would happily sign up for more sessions). It occurs to me that these roads are full of drivers who, like myself, are in dire need of a brush-up. That many of them continue driving without the benefit of a defensive driving course proves just how valuable the programme is. Defensive driving courses start at Dhs1,000 for a half day and Dhs950 for a full day. Call the Emirates Driving Institute on 04 261 9595 for more information.