Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another avoidable tragedy

There is no question that road crashes are the fault of drivers.

But...roads and the management of them are a contributing factor.

Not just in Dubai, anywhere the world.

While we have a huge way to go to educate drivers, that isn't going to happen any time soon.
But there is no excuse for not urgently fixing current hazards and avoiding future dangers caused by bad planning and management of the roads (there I go again).

I've talked about it several times - the mish-mash of US and British road systems, the short distances given to filter in and cross several lanes of traffic to move into the lane you need, the confusing or non-existent signage. Roundabouts with traffic lights, U-turns without traffic lights. Vision blocked; here's a comment e-mailed to me by a friend about Al Wasl Road:

"the STUPID advertising bill-boards (you know, the free standing ones with lights inside) on the central reservation, usually advertising Burger King, Pizza Hut or Davidoff's new perfume) REALLY BLOCK THE VIEW."

All of that is about the planning. Or lack of it.

Last year on Al Wasl Road this happened:

The two, both in their early 20s, burnt to death when their Peugeot 206 caught fire after it was struck by another vehicle on Al Wasl Road in Dubai on Friday afternoon.

It happended here, where they were apparently attempting a U-turn:

Photo: Regi Varghesi. Gulf News

It happened again on Friday and the report reminded us that:

Three expatriates died in a similar accident involving a U-turn five months back.

On Friday:

Three people, including a five-year-old child, were burnt to death in a horrific car accident late on Friday night on Al Wasl Road.

According to witnesses, the accident happened when the car carrying the child rammed into another vehicle while taking a U-turn near the Iranian Hospital.

Later reports say the child was only two and was sitting on the driver's lap. Dear God! Just maybe, she might have been saved by the people who tried to help had she been in a proper child seat in the back of the car.

It happened here:

Photo: Megan Hirons. Gulf News.

They weren't the cause of the crash but the trees and all the poles certainly don't help visibility and probably contributed to the problem.

So now the RTA has closed the U-turn and has taken the trees out:

Photo: Javed Nawab. Gulf News.

And here's where I get back to the lack of planning.

You notice there are no traffic lights at either U-turn?

The road is busier than ever with Salik dodgers using it, and drivers waiting to U-turn or drive across get impatient. I know they shouldn't but that's human nature and it's something that any good planner, any health & safety expert, allows for and builds into his plan.

Only after several crashes and deaths is action taken to remove the hazard. But it should never have been planned that way in the first place. Prevention. Don't create a problem and fix it afterwards, don't create the problem in the first place.

If we're going to have the dual-carriageway/U-turn system, if we're going to make drivers who want to turn left cross two or three lanes, then traffic lights should always have been the key safety factor.

Much of it is not originally the RTA's fault because it was built long before the RTA were formed. But they are at fault for not having urgently removed the hazards on what is after all one of Dubai's main arterial roads.

And while I'm ranting, again I have to raise the question of why there are so many fires in vehicle crashes. Here are the terrible remains of this latest crash:

Photo: Bassam Za'za'. Gulf News.

There are plenty of crashes in other countries, including high-speed crashes on freeways. But very rarely is there an instant fire which is actually the cause of deaths. The crash doesn't kill the occupants, it's the fire afterwards.

So why do we have them? Do we have less safe cars? Do we need tighter regulations?

Back in November I posted that: "Dr. Yaser Hawas, Director of the Roadway, Transportation & Traffic Safety Research Centre in Al Ain, said the occurrence of vehicle fires during accidents is so alarming that it warrants an investigation into the causes".

I wonder whether anything ever happened.

You can read the stories about these awful incidents here, here, here and here.


Cairogal said...

I've often wondered about the car fires...is it that cars travel at such high speeds that the fuel tank is cracked/destroyed? Are the cars that catch on fire usually smaller cars that have been hit by much larger cars?

I read an article in the Gulf News recently about how the government was setting up a fund for families of road fatalies (or something to that effect). Here's a thought: why not invest that money in prevention? Just think the lives that could be saved if child car seats were required. What about driver education? When I learned to drive we had to watch horrific videos of real road accidents. I was scared to drive for a long time. It's so reactive to set up funds for victims rather than working harder to prevent the road deaths.

Seabee said...

Cairogal it isn't speed that causes the fires - as I said, there are high-speed crashes overseas that don't end in fire. And crashes such as these on Al Wasl Road are not high speed.

I suspect that it must be that safety standards required on vehicles sold here aren't strong enough.

And yes, prevention is always better than cure. That's why I get so mad about the lack of good planning here, we do things piecemeal, just let the chaos happen and try to deal with it afterwards.

Duffy said...

In re: fires: The flammable liquids hit that searing hot pavement and evaporate creating a flammable vapor which is much more likely to explode. If the air temp is north of 45C, I can only imagine how hot the roads are.

Seabee said...

Duffy, number one, the fuel tank shouldn't crack as easily as this. There are strict rules elsewhere about their safety standards.
Number two, your theory doesn't explain the fires in winter when air temp is less than 20C.

Cairogal said...

The car that caught fire last year (I think it was 2 Britons) was, I believe, a Peugot. The Peugots that are sold in the UAE: where are they made? I guess I'm wondering where these cars are coming from that they have not passed the same safety standards as cars in other countries.

netjunkie said...

Hello All! I live and work in the US, but having visited Dxb twice in the last 6 mths, I have developed an interest in the upcoming place to be. I have been reading your blog for a while now - and I must thank you, for updating it regularly - unlike others. Keep up the observation!

Anonymous said...

Three Pakistani guys in a Sunny, probably with no AC, hurrying to take a turn and not paying attention. Big Land Cruiser, probably tinted windows, speeding at night, not paying attention.

This was nothing to do with trees.

sd-b said...

I don't know if it is just me but there seems to be an increase in accidents lately. This week alone, I have seen an accident in the marina every single day.

I also want to point out that not only do those adverts in the middle of the road block the view, but there are so many of them that sometimes, its hard to distinguish them from real traffic signs (detour signs, speed bump signs, etc) b/c there's so much distraction that I just tune them all out!

Anonymous said...

I think that the whole country is hit by the lack of (or rather poor) planning at all levels. Roads are the everyday example we encounter.

Abu Dhabi is not better .. signs are there, but placed in the wrong place .. they place them after the turn, not before it .. in such case, if you are following the signs then most likely you will see the sign you need AFTER passing the turn .. so either you miss it or just have a sharp turn to get into the proper direction.

Also, a common notice is that not only trees block the sight, but also the advertisements placed by companies .. are they licensed? .. are they monitored? regardless of the questions .. here comes a more important question: How many times did the guy who decided to cut the trees and close the junction on al Wasel road pass by the trees/advertisements without THINKING about what he sees .. or he would be rather "playing" with his mobile phone or the nice navigation system on his car's dashboard.

The bigger question is: Why do the officers need to wait for SOMEONE to tell them what to do? Isn't it their duty? Remember when last year 19 people died on one of the Eids and Police did not take action except when they received higher orders and instructions, when they started secret patrols and portable radars .. isn't that their job they are paid to do?

In short, Dubai has poor planning (Sharjah has none!) and that shows when horrible traffic accidents happen, when it rains, and when several people die in building fires. Mentioning fires, when do you think they will put a law in place to control fires? answer: when the higher order and instructions arrive, in the meantime, let things as they are and let's get busy with newspapers' interviews and showing off.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the real causes of the fires but my mom said, could it be because we use gasolines here? In other countries that use diesels, fire during accidents do not necessarily happen.

I have no facts to back this up.

Seabee said...

anon, no that's not it. Although diesel use is increasing, most private vehicles in most countries still use gasoline, not diesel. They've changed to unleaded, but still use gasoline.