The other day I started talking about Dubai traffic, and somehow ended up on Recession Road. It’s time to backtrack. And this time, in the end, we’ll end up on a Russian Road.
As I said two entries ago, driving in Dubai is a risky business. It’s been that way since I first came to the UAE in 1993.
In fact, everything associated with the roads, the drivers and driving itself were so surprising to me when I first got here that I wrote three consecutive letters (Driven to Distraction One, Two and Three), about various aspects of my experiences at the time.
The first of those 1993 letters began thus:
Driving is a dangerous sport in the UAE. Venture out onto the roads and you take your life into your hands. No kidding. In the last three days I’ve seen as many accidents while I’m out and about. The other night I was sitting out on the balcony reading, when I heard the screech of brakes from the road that runs past our building…
I turned to look at the roundabout, which is maybe 100 feet past the apartment complex, and boom: collision. It’s very scary. They pass on the inside and the outside shoulders on the highway. I’m sure they’d go over you if they could. And fast? Speeding bullets couldn’t compete with the drivers here.
Since I wrote Taxis Keep Their Ears to the Ground a few days ago, at least three more people have been killed in road traffic accidents or RTAs (ironically an acronym shared by Dubai’s Road Traffic Authority), and likely scores more injured, in traffic accidents in the emirate.
A bit of digging turned up some frightening figures. A 2005 report says that, in the year 2000, the ratio of vehicles to people is considerably lower in the UAE (5.4 persons per vehicle) than either the UK (2.1) or the US (1.3).
Meanwhile, the number of fatalities per hundred thousand vehicles in the UAE is nearly six times greater than that in the USA, and more than ten times greater than in the UK.
The stats, I suspect, could only have gotten worse over the past eight years since, as the number of vehicles on Dubai roads has increased exponentially, leaving thoroughfares choked with traffic and parking virtually impossible to find.
Dubai does everything on a grand scale. It hosts the richest horse race (Dubai World Cup), is erecting the tallest building (Burj Dubai), and has dredged The World from the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf (see http://www.theworld.ae/)
In 2008, it also had the dubious distinction of having amongst the most horrific road traffic accidents and statistics, despite a reported decline in traffic fatalities versus 2007.
On March 11 last year, on the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai more than 200 cars crashed (and many burned), early one foggy morning. Amazingly, only three people died in the spectacular pile-up; close to 300 more were injured.
Less than a month later, Gulf News reported that 21 people were killed in a spate of gruesome traffic related accidents in only 72 hours.
The cost of this vehicular mayhem, according to another Gulf News article, was close to AED 5 billion (EUR 1+ billion; USD 1.4 billion) in the seven years leading up to 2008. An RTA official estimated the impact in Dubai in 2007 alone to be AED 720 million (EUR 150 million; USD 196 million), or about one per cent of the emirate’s GDP.
Let’s hope the Dubai Metro, which is currently under construction, will reduce both the number of cars on the road, and, as a result the number of accidents. At a cost of AED 12.4 billion (EUR 2.6 billion; USD 3.4 billion), it should have some impact.
In the meantime, we can be thankful we don’t live in Russia, where, if the following video is to be believed, the traffic challenges are much, much messier…