Traffic Safety

Via Marginal Revolution, I found this article in the New York Times about international road safety:

On his travels to almost 100 countries, Barry Goldsmith, a creator of tours for General Tours, says he has worried about risks like terrorism, crime and infectious disease. But one trumps all the others.

"It’s traffic accidents," Mr. Goldsmith said.

Road accidents are "the largest cause of nonnatural death among U.S. citizens overseas," said Betsy L. Anderson, a senior consular official at the State Department.

I've had numerous people in the US tell me that we are "brave" to live here. But the only time that I feel unsafe is on the road here.

The driving here is, well, trying to be polite, exciting. Speed limits are regarded, except in the presence of a radar camera, as mild suggestions. Driving in your own lane is clearly optional, especially in roundabouts. I cannot remember how many cabbies have told me not to put on my seat belt because there are no police around. Stop signs are also regarded as mere decoration. A working horn is regarded as more important than the brakes or good tires.

To top it off, if you do drive sensibly (stop at stop signs, wait for a clear break in traffic to pull out, stop when pedestrians are in the road, not run yellow lights, pay attention to the lane direction markings, drive in your lane in roundabouts - this happened to me again today, etc.), you will only make your fellow drivers mad, which they will gladly demonstrate by honking at you.

By the way, I'm not singling out any nationality here, because pretty much everyone is terrible, just in different ways. Luckily I haven't had any friends die in accidents here - yet. But three times I have heard of friends of friends being killed, and when you remember just how small the Western expat community is here in Al Ain, that is a scary fact.

The really dumb thing about the aggressive driving is that it isn't even accomplishing anything. Following the traffic rules (for the most part, I do speed a little bit, like doing 70 kph in a 60 zone) there is no part of Al Ain that I cannot get to in more than 15 minutes. How much time could I possibly save by driving recklessly? Five minutes maybe? And the same is true on the highways. It only takes me an hour to an hour and a quarter to get to Dubai at 120 kph. How much time can you really save by driving foolishly? Is it worth risking your life and the lives of others to get where you are going a few minutes earlier?

I was glad (and a little surprised) to read that "Americans are among the most polite drivers in the world" though.


Marcus Aurelius said...

FYI, I noticed Tony Blair & Michael Schumacher are trying to make dangerous driving a UN concern.

That is what you are noticing the NYT is getting on board with the UN's nannyism.

Don't get me wrong, UAE drivers should get pulled over & ticketed. One thing I noticed is drunk driving is easy to get away with since everyone drove like they were drunk.

In the end this is not the UN's business.

Anonymous said...

Lived in the U.S. for five years.
Drove 40 thousand miles
Used the horn for no more than 10 times.

Horn is only used by drunk drivers during the weekend and not for traffic purposes.

U.S. drivers the politest in the world? I'm not surprised.

Brn said...


I hadn't seen that about trying to get the UN involved. Actually I think that improving road safety might be something that the UN could actually accomplish.

I do think that the only way that things would improve is having police actually enforce the laws by pulling people over.


From my experience here and there, I agree that as far as honking goes, we Americans are much more polite. It also seems that we are much more like to yield to pedestrians and slow down to allow someone to merge into our lane.

Marcus Aurelius said...

When I was ack in 2000 to get The Empress my UAE driver's license was still valid. I was driving the car of another Filipina friend and I stopped at a stop sign. She asked why I was stopping. I said the obvious.

One of my minor accidents resulted from me stopping at a – stop sign.

I saw numerous incidents of people running redlights at full speed, I heard of an English teacher getting a full speed @$$ end while they were stopped at a redlight (of course the English teacher is the one to get blood tested).

The problem I have with the UN in this is the usual argument the UN is full of unelected officious bureaucrats unlikely to solve any problems but blame the .... and the US while jetting about the world to conferences full of chapagne, caviar, and glitterati.

Two things need to change in the UAE. The police & authorities need to be willing to enforce the laws themselves first. When Ali asks for help on this speeding ticket don't stuff the picture of Ali's mercedes into a honda owner's file. Then the "Inshallah" attitude has to change, this is a tall order. God does not want you to pass on a blind curve.

Al Ain Taxi said...

Bss and Brn; you've been tagged by The Taxi.

Joyful Days said...

My sons would love the horn thing. When driving, if someone is slow or has cut us off or if traffic is not moving, they offer, "Honk the horn, Mommy!!" And I think, "That is going to help me, how??"

It's hard to think of American drivers as polite. And it's sad if they really are more polite.

I just cannot imagine how far away you all are from "here."

Anonymous said...


Matthew said...

American drivers are the most polite in the world? Clearly that researcher spent all his time in Minnesota and never set foot in New York!

Anonymous said...

when i arrived here over 2 years ago i had to do the drivers licence test despite having had my licence for over 20 years in a western country. it was totally confusing and bizarre, my instructor encouraged me to drive 80 in the 60 zone and 100 in the 80 zone, despite my pointing out that the speed sign said 80 or 60. no, no,no madam - drive faster!
there is also no formal driver training, so no training of road rules!
i got my licence on the first try, but heard stories of other women, depending on where they came from, trying over 20 times!!