How to stay safe on Dubai's roads

We ask the experts how to ensure you don't become a statistic

As the city develops, traffic and congestion are regular topics of conversation. One issue facing our roads is the fact that some drivers fail to resist the urge to speed. We speak to the experts to find out how reckless driving is being tackled, and how you can do your bit.

Despite Dubai’s network of well-made and well-maintained roads and highways, problems remain among those who use them every day. Unfortunately, reckless driving is still a cause for concern, and two high-profile incidents earlier this year – one in August which saw all four members of one family killed on Sheikh Zayed Road and another later in September, which killed a cyclist near Safa Park – served as a tragic reminder of the terrible consequences of poor judgement on the road.

Findings released earlier this year from a study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington showed heart disease and road fatalities are two of the largest causes of sudden, unexpected deaths in the UAE. Meanwhile, the Emirates Driving Institute estimates there is a (not necessarily deadly) collision occurring somewhere in Dubai every two to three minutes. Until this year, Dubai Police’s Traffic Department’s target for zero deaths on the road by 2020 had been heading in the right direction, decreasing every year since 2008, and filling the city’s residents with optimism.

But unfortunately, more than 100 deaths were recorded on Dubai’s roads in the first seven months of 2013, compared with 55 last year. With this in mind, we decided it was time to look at the issue of careless driving. Here, some of the city’s road safety experts share their views on how motorists can keep themselves safe.

Can students make our roads safer?
As part of the annual Gulf Traffic Conference and Awards, students in the UAE are being invited to come up with ideas and plans for making the region’s roads safer. Whether a poster campaign, a technology to be implemented in cars or an education programme, students must submit a business plan of their ideas to the organisation, with the winner
announced at the conference on December 9. For more information, visit

Essential car and tyre maintenance
‘There is no set rule for regular car servicing in Dubai,’ explains Shaun Smith, national Fast Fit manager for Al Futtaim Auto Centers. ‘It depends on the manufacturer’s recommendation on time-based service intervals, and each brand has different requirements. In the case of Toyota, the recommended service period is at every 5,000km, and for Audi every 15,000km.’ Adhering to these schedules will help maintain the lifespan of the engine and fuel economy of the vehicle.

With that said, Smith notes that there is a legal requirement for every car on Dubai’s roads to be roadworthy. ‘We often see car owners approaching non-registered or poor-quality service centres looking for low prices and quick services – the concern is that most of these car owners don’t get their cars serviced in line with the recommended maintenance schedules.’

The result is that the car is not kept in good condition, parts exceed their lifespan and the vehicle becomes unsafe. On any given day, driving on one of Dubai’s highways, you’re likely to spot the torn-up remnants of a tyre that has given way mid-journey. This is one particular area where Smith recommends seeking qualified help. ‘If an owner decides to check his own tyre, he will look at the pressure and assume the tyre is in good condition. An expert will not only look at the pressure, but also for signs of wearing and its causes, poor suspension or alignment issues, the DOT code (for age), cracks, damage and so on,’ he explains, adding that there is ‘no excuse’ for not maintaining your car on a regular basis, as it is significant not only to the owner but also for the safety of others on the road.

How you should really be using your hazard lights and indicators
Changing lanes without indicating is one of the easiest ways to cause a small collision or big crash. Hodges notes that unfortunately, the non-use of indicators is ‘actually a real problem in the UAE’, with the lane-change ‘side-swipe’ the most common accident in Dubai. ‘Drivers just don’t remember that driving is a form of team sport; whatever one car does will affect adjacent vehicles, hence it is really helpful to check first if it is safe to do a manoeuvre, and if so, then signal your intent to do so.’

In March this year, it was revealed the Ministry of Interior is working on making fog lights mandatory in the UAE, to help prevent accidents like the March 2008 200-car pile-up near Ghantoot.

Dubai’s road users also have a fondness for using hazard lights, regardless of whether the situation calls for it. ‘Some drivers here are completely clueless about the proper use of these highly useful indicators,’ Hodges laments, explaining there are only two correct times to use hazard lights. The first instance is when you are stopped (broken down, stuck, no fuel) and parked on the side of the road on the right-hand hard shoulder or sand, and present a possible ‘static hazard’ to other vehicles. The second is when you stop suddenly on the road in traffic, and are in a vulnerable position, where you need to warn vehicles approaching from behind that you are stationary – in these cases, the lights act as an extra alert to other drivers who may have been inattentive (using phones, drinking coffee, looking at the kids) that you have stopped suddenly, either behind traffic hidden around a corner, to let a pedestrian cross the road, or to avoid joining the collision that’s happened in front of you.

‘These are the only proper occasions during which to use hazard lights. Putting them on while triple-parking so that the car owner can pop into the grocer’s shop is not a valid reason – go and find a proper place to park considerately.’

Other driving institutes to try

Dubai Driving Center

Belhasa Driving Center

Galadari Motor Driving Center

Click to view What causes accidents on Dubai's roads
Click to view What RTA is doing to reduce road deaths
Click to view Dubai: The seatbelt issue

What to do in the event of a crash or breakdown
In August this year, the tragic case of a woman who stopped her car in the middle of Sheikh Zayed Road caught the city’s attention. After suffering a flat tyre, despite a warning from another motorist, she remained in the third lane of the highway instead of pulling over onto the hard shoulder. Moments later, a car went into the back of her vehicle, killing four members of a family who were travelling in the second car. ‘If you break down on a highway, always try to pull off the road safely and get away from the car if you can – many people are killed in static collisions,’ Hodges explains. ‘If it’s not an accident, call any breakdown service or reliable firm, such as AAA or Al Futtaim, or the police on their non-emergency number (901) for advice. Check if your car is under warranty for roadside recovery – if so, call them for rescue.’

Hodges explains police procedures in the event of an accident
• By law, if you have an accident, you must stay with your vehicle, call the police and await their arrival.

• The police will then make a decision over how or whether to move the vehicles.

• Prior to the arrival of the police, get yourself and your passengers to a place of safety off the carriageway – stand behind the barrier or on the pavement.

• Once the police arrive, they will discuss the accident with the drivers involved, and where necessary measure the scene, take photographs and question witnesses or bystanders.

• Based on all these factors and their experienced judgement and training, the senior officer will then decide who the guilty party is, and hand the red (pink) slip to that driver, and the green (no fault) slip to the other driver.

• If the accident is considered serious enough, or involves injuries, loss of life, or driving under the influence, police may warn the relevant driver of the possibility of a prosecution file being opened for the consideration of a court case – or you could even be arrested on the spot.

What exactly is defensive driving?
A phrase touted by Dubai’s driving schools and the traffic police, many people have no idea what it actually means. According to Hodges, defensive driving is about making sure you and your vehicle are always in the right place at the right time at the right speed. Taking the course enables you to analyse and predict road traffic situations before they occur, as well as drive positively and considerately. Advanced driving is an even higher level, and the course encompasses all the defensive driving techniques in addition to police-derived specialised observational and active planning skills. You can train in both in the UAE, and the extra good news says Hodges, is that many major insurance firms around the world offer generous discounts to defensive and advanced-certificated drivers.,

RTA’s Seven steps to staying safe
Essential driving tips from the RTA’s Take Care campaign:
Fatigue: Driving while tired, sleepy or intoxicated can lead to serious accidents. Avoid driving in these conditions or use public transport.

Red signals: Violating red signals can lead to accidents involving vehicles and/or pedestrians. Make sure you stop to avoid legal action.

Safe distance: Maintaining a safe distance between your car and other vehicles on the road gives you more time to react to sudden braking, reducing the chance of a collision. Always make sure a distance of at least one car is maintained between vehicles.

Seatbelts: Not wearing a seatbelt is a major factor in injuries sustained by drivers and passengers in an accident. Make sure you wear yours to improve your chances of surviving a crash.

Sudden lane change: This increases the chance of an accident. Make sure you use your indicators when changing lanes.

Speed: Speed is the leading cause of road accidents where there is serious injury or fatality. Make sure you stay within the legal speed limit.

Mobile phones: Using your phone while driving is a serious safety hazard and could cause fatal accidents. Make sure you use hands-free or a headset while driving.

Out in the desert
Dune-bashing is great fun, but it can turn deadly if you’re ill-prepared. Here are some top tips to ensure you keep it safe.

1 Make sure your petrol tank is full before setting off, and there is a spare tyre in the boot.

2 Take a strong rope in case you need to pull your car out of the sand.

3 Make sure you have a toolbox of essentials – hammer, screw-driver, pliers, flashlight with extra batteries, a box of matches and a pocket knife.

4 Learn how to use a compass, and take one with you during your outing.

5Take lots of fluids and food supplies with you on the trip, as well as high SPF sunscreen and extra clothes.

6Tell friends and family where you are going, and how long you intend to be gone for.

7 Don’t venture out into the desert alone – always go in a convoy with more than one car.

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