Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Our dangerous roads

Over the past few months I came to the conclusion that the standard of driving in Dubai has improved.

Wrong. It was a false conclusion.

The last two days I've encountered a couple of the things which I haven't come across for a while but used to see on a daily basis, pushing into queues and using the hard shoulder to get to the front.

That made me realise that what's happened to give a false impression of the driving standards is that there are more roads with fewer vehicles on them.

It's not that people have learnt that it's wrong to drive to the front of a queue in the wrong lane and then force their way in. The reality is that there are fewer tailbacks so there isn't the opportunity for them to do it.

The other thing that hasn't changed is speeding, or overspeeding as I'm amused to see it referred to in the media.

On Sheikh Zayed Road when the speed limit was reduced to 100kph I was, and still am, amazed at the large number of drivers who observe the limit.

But inevitably there's a percentage who still weave in and out at high speed, tailgating and light flashing. Fewer than previously according to my observation but still enough to make life dangerous.

I don't see much change in the speed at which buses, trucks and minivans are hurled about the streets either.

There's a problem with speed, too, in residential areas. A major factor is that we have too many divided multi-lane roads (dual carriageways) in residential areas, which the morons take full advantage of. About three weeks ago Chris Saul complained that it was a fact of life in Old Town and we also have it in Dubai Marina. Speed limit is clearly signed as 60kph but between 80 and 100 is the norm.

I don't know whether the crash, death and injury figures are coming down but I'm guessing that I see fewer crashes simply because we have more roads and less congestion.

That brings me on to the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report on Road Safety.

With things changing so rapidly in Dubai the figures are not all that meaningful because they're from 2007. However they do tell us what the situation was then and how we compared with other countries.

A couple of things to add about the report. Countries submitted their own data and they self-rated themselves on law enforcement and that needs to be kept in mind when reading the country profiles.

The report shows that in 2007 our roads were amongst the most dangerous in the world. For deaths on the roads we had 37.1 deaths per 100,000 poulation against a global average of 18.8.

I have to question the UAE's percentage claims on law enforcement because, as I've said many times, that's where we have a problem. Too few traffic police out on the streets and too many people getting away with dangerous driving.

Yet on enforcement of speed laws our police claim 7 out of 10, on enforcing seat belt laws they claim 7 out of 10. I think that sounds very optimistic.

Another interesting point was pedestrian deaths. That's received a lot of coverage with calls for more pedestrian bridges, something that we certainly do need. But is that the answer? If you compare our pedestrian deaths figure with other countries it seems to be a simplistic view of the problem.

I looked at countries which I know or which are relevant to many people living here. Pedestrians account for 28% of our road deaths. Compare that with Singapore, where they drive very much more slowly and have plenty of pedestrian crossings, but their figure is 27%. The UK has 21%, Australia 13%, South Africa 39%, while in the Philippines Metro Manila has a staggering 51%.

(I looked at India too of course, given the big Indian community here, but the figures they gave are too vague, with 'other' and 'unspecified' making up 40% of the the breakdown).

Another section of the UAE country report shows two things which need urgent attention:

While we have a seat belt law it's shown as not applying to all occupants of a vehicle. It should.

We have no child restraints law. We should have.

WHO report is here.


Mohammed said...

Regarding your last 2 lines on laws; we dont need those laws. You know why? Because they will be selectively enforced.

We have laws against full tinting and against talking on mobiles whiel driving, yet in one week I can count at least 30-40 people on their cellphones, and probably 500 cars with more than the allowed
Laws are useless if they arent applied to some people....

Rootless said...

Addressing the danger on our roads is simple! Get Mrs. Gergawi's new office off to a flying start by having her counter the vile distortions about Dubai's roads being spread by malicious foreign elements. She can issue a statement announcing that Dubai has the best driving standards in the world (well "fastest" might be misinterpreted and "biggest" would be just weird). She can further point out that reports to the contrary are simply evidence of a global media conspiracy to undermine Dubai because people are so jealous of our super-safe roads. Gulf News can then carry a front-page article quoting the statement in full and nothing else, trumpeting this latest advance as the truth it so clearly represents. Problem solved - er because there never was a problem to begin with only a failure to respect cultural sensitivities and traditions etc. ad nauseum....

Seabee said...

That's the problem Mohammed, and why I question the high rating they gave themselves for enforcement of laws.

I'm not sure that 'selectively enforced' is right though, I see all sorts of people breaking the laws but no police around to stop them.

Keith said...

You could be describing the standard of driving in this country. I watch the cars whizzing past my house, and most people seem to be holding a mobile phone to their ear as they go by! Like you, we have laws that can't be enforced because there are NO police in our town! If we need the police in a hurry we have phone the central cop shop 15 miles away, and the usual reply is that "we don't have anyone available at the moment"!

Dave said...

I think Rootless has an excellent point too - I am absolutely waiting for the rebuttal of this report....

Seabee said...

Well Dave it would be interesting because as I said in the posting: Countries submitted their own data and they self-rated themselves on law enforcement

Rootless said...

Seabee said (modestly quoting himself):
"as I said in the posting: 'Countries submitted their own data and they self-rated themselves on law enforcement'"

And we all know that it would be absolutely unprecedented for one Dubai or UAE government department or agency to contradict another one, let alone another spokesperson from the same body e.g on road safety, property investors' rights, rent index, one-villa-one-family rule, ID cards, visas etc.. I'm anticipating a statement from the Dubai Media Affairs office to make that point clear also.

Seabee said...

Rootless you've become a real bore and you're not in the least bit amusing.

You have an awful lot to say about a very limited number of subjects and insist on using other people's blogs for your schoolboy sarcasm and to keep repeating yourself.

As you obviously want to publish your opinions the honest thing to do would be to create your own blog and do your complaining there, not misuse other people's blogs as your platform.

Rootless said...

LOL Seabee. Me? Boring???!!?? Never!!!!
You? Pompous? Self-righteous??? And ever so thin-skinned???....well I'll leave that to the jury....

Beaver Chua said...


I think the statistics highlighted by you is a case of over representation especially on the matter of Singapore's traffic fatality in terms of pedestrian.

Look at the population of UAE and SG (ref WHO), both countries belong to and are in the same category of high income nations albeit the disparity in income. However, the total number of accidents differ by almost 5 times i.e. Singapore 214 vs UAE 1056 and pedestrian fatality is at 58 vs 296 respectively or you can look at it from a population perspective 0.001% in SG vs 0.006% in UAE. Not forgetting the fact that SG has half the number of vehicles on the road (as UAE) and i.e. more pedestrians.

The fatality rate (pedestrian) of UAE is actually higher than Singapore and in some way imply that the Singapore traffic system works better.

Seabee said...

Beaver Chua I agree with you about the methodology of the WHO survey.

It is a very simplistic survey, not taking into account things such as the actual number of vehicles, the percentage of the population driving, number of vehicles per kilometre of roads, the types of roads etc etc etc.

I was simply quoting their percentage figures for pedestrian fatalities because that was something our media highlighted.

Pete from Hull said...

Mobile phones - since coming here to work in october I have seen 2 serious accidents caused directly by phones + you see every other car with people using normal handsets.
Kids without seat belts - I see so many cars in Sharjah with Kids in the front seat without seatbelts.
Yesterday crowned it I saw a Nursery school bus with a 4 year old standing up directly next to teh front screen of the bus.

Beaver Chua said...


I wasn't too concern about the media here but rather, your own interpretation which was simplistic and misleading. I was pointing out that you can't just look at percentages alone (much like the press here though) without consideration of other numbers. Just like they mention that bulk of the fatal accidents are caused by expats from the sub continents follow by their nationals. What they didn't consider was the percentage of population contributing to the accidents.

It is easily misunderstood if one does not take a look at the WHO's report in detail and consider the other stats noted within.

In any case, I am opined that the traffic situation (safety) here is, at current, not even close to countries like UK, Australia, Singapore, etc. Thanks for responding.

Seabee said...

Beaver Chua, I wasn't actually interpreting, simply reporting what it said in relationn to a point picked up by both the media here and the WHO in conversations with them. If I'd interpreted it then I would have gone into all the methodology, the lack of context etc.

Context is a point your raise and one that I post about many times when I complain that figures are given without context.