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Wed 12 Mar 2008 03:56 PM

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A very human tragedy

The UAE's worst ever road accident is a very human tragedy. It seems certain that the death toll will run to double figures.

The UAE’s worst ever road accident is a very human tragedy. There are conflicting reports on the number of dead and injured, but it seems certain that the death toll will run to double figures.

Over 300 people are injured, most of whom were innocently travelling on labour camp buses to the construction sites of Dubai.

The cause of the accident, which is rightly the subject of an extensive investigation by UAE authorities, is likely to be found to be predominately human error or, put more bluntly, human stupidity.

Eyewitnesses report that cars were travelling at over 150 kph along roads with visibility as low as 20 metres in early morning fog. An accident was inevitable; a tragedy of the magnitude seen on Tuesday, far from improbable.

The dead and injured should be seen as victims, and the reckless drivers that caused it, treated as perpetrators.

The team of crash investigators should examine the evidence in forensic detail to try – in so far as it is possible – to identify the innocent and build prosecution cases against the guilty.

But this will not be easy in a country where traffic laws have been in a state of constant change, and the application of those laws has been inconsistent.

Recent changes to UAE driving laws are likely to hinder, rather than help, bring some sort of justice in the cases that will follow the accident.

An extensive list of traffic violations has been drawn up, but the penalties seen hard to fathom.

For example, driving a vehicle without number plates warrants 24 black points on the license, and a 60-day confiscation of the vehicle. But causing death of others is only 12 black points and a 30-day confiscation of the vehicle.

Exceeding the maximum speed limit by more than 60 kph gets 12 points and a 30-day confiscation of the vehicle – exactly the same penalty as driving in a way that is dangerous to the public.

Some of the new regulations are absurd. A “sudden swerve” will get you four points, and “overtaking in a wrong way” [sic] will get you three points.

The only mention of fog is violation number 104, which will land you with four points for driving at night or in foggy conditions without lights – nothing at all about the need to slow down in fog.

Possibly the most dangerous practice of all on the road, and almost certainly a contributory factor to Tuesday’s accident, is speaking on a mobile phone. But this offence warrants a mere Dhs200 fine and four points.

Horror and disbelief at yesterday’s accident will turn to anger and bewilderment today. The UAE authorities need to demonstrate that they understand, sympathise and will support victims of the crash, and are prepared to act with measured and proportionate punishments for those that caused it.

And the judicial system, from crash investigation teams, to the police, to the courts, must deal with the innocent and guilty in a fair, transparent and consistent manner.

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stuart mayhead 12 years ago

I have lived here for nearly 2 years now and have driven between Dubai & Abu Dhabi extensively. I have always wondered why cars designed to the 'Gulf Specification' don't have both front & rear fog lights fitted. I also think the Police need to clear up the confusion about the use of Hazard lights when moving. Certainly they should be used to warn of hazards ahead but only a few flashes are required before the cars behind pass on the communication; but the only other usage should be when the car is stationary and therefore a hazard. Finally about driving too close to the car in front, I use a little poem (it takes 2 seconds to quote) - 'Only a fool breaks the 2 second rule'. If you wait for the car in front to pass a road sign or some form of marker and then say the poem. If you don’t get to the end of the poem by the time you pass the marker YOU ARE THE FOOL! Oh and it works at all speeds. Perhaps the UAE press could start a campaign?

Mark 12 years ago

Everyday I have some fool driving so close to me I might as well have given them a lift. Sadly, with the great roads here this was an incident waiting to happen and will probably not be the last. The standard of driving in some quarters here is appauling, the lack of highway knowledge, the implications of speed and how to behave generally with what can be a killing machine in the wrong hands is hugely apparent. The authorities do have their work cutout trying to implement a uniform driving standard with the mix of peoples here but they can start with an intensive media campaign on how to behave and drive following 'western' standards because we've been using the motor car longer and using western consultant to put this campaign together because they do have the greater knowledge. Starting with...more highway patrols to pull in the wanna be Schumakers and ALL trucks, lorries, vans, buses should have their speed mechanically restricted with the maximum speed set at say 90km...