View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First the Swine Flu Sermon, Now a Sermon on Responsible Driving in the Emirates

It’s Time!
Recently the UAE government did a good thing by giving all imams a ‘unified sermon’ to preach at every mosque in the country on the important subject of ‘Swine Flu’.

As most sermons are written from a central office the time is overdue for a sermon to be preached at all religious gatherings on the subject, ‘Responsible Driving in the Emirates’.

Here is an outline of things that could be incorporated into such a sermon or built into a series of sermons.

Let’s Begin With the Bad News
The UAE roads are among the deadliest in the world.

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report that assessed 178 countries, the United Arab Emirates has a death rate of 37 (37.1) per 100,000 population!

UAE road users are almost seven times more likely to be killed than people in the United Kingdom where the death rate is 5 (5.4) for every 100,000 people.

The UAE death rate of 37 per 100,000 is tragic when compared with the world average of 19 (18.8) for every 100,000 people.

Why does the UAE have the highest death rate on the roads in the region (37 deaths per 100,000 people) with Bahrain at 12 (12.1), Kuwait at 17 (16.9), Oman at 21 (21.3), Qatar at 24 (23.7) and Saudi Arabia at 29?

The statistics do not lie. This is a distressing record and the World Health experts are crying out to the UAE government and drivers on the roads of the Emirates and asking us to make some radical changes.

Why a Sermon on Road Safety?
We can pray five times a day in a mosque but if religion fails to relate to our everyday life it is worthless and irrelevant.

A real faith connects with all aspects of life—decision making, relationships, family, neighbors, health, education and the environment.

Allah longs for salaam (peace, shalom, pax). This is a vision for peace at many different levels—peace between an individual and God, the possession of inner serenity, peace between families and neighbors, peace in the wider dimension between tribes and nations and peace that relates to the total environment in which we live.

With such a mandate, religious faith must connect with contemporary concerns such as swine flu, sexuality, spending, saving and safety on our streets.

The Good News
The good news is that we have the freedom and the capacity to do something about the carnage on our roads.

In its short history the UAE has developed a ‘can do’ spirit that relates to creating a union that benefits all of emirates, it has built eye-catching towers, made household water from the sea and it is grappling with the issues of human rights. Surely we can conquer our aggression and respect others who drive and walk on our roads.

So what are the things we can work on together? Here are some specific recommendations from the World Health Organization report and then a few others:

Slow Down
With the high number of fatalities on the roads the UAE government is being asked to reduce the speed limit in different areas.

Hand in hand with this new law is the issue of detecting those who drive over the speed limit and speed cameras has helped detection and saved lives. In some emirates there is a wide margin of grace whereby drivers can go 20kph above the indicated speed before the cameras take their picture. This margin of grace needs to be reduced accordingly.

Abu Dhabi taxis have been fitted with speed limiting devices to halt the high accident rate but these should be fitted to the cars of drivers who repeatedly break the speed limit, if not to all cars in the Emirates.

Belt Up Everyone
The WHO report is recommending that the wearing of seat belts be made compulsory in the back as well as in the front seats. This will save many lives, especially children, who when unrestrained become like missiles hurled against the front window in the event of heavy braking or a collision.

There is an erroneous view that the doing up of one’s safety belt is a sign of a lack of trust in the power of God to protect and care for the driver.

A passenger got into the car and immediately did up her safety belt. The driver took this as an affront to her driving ability and said, “Don’t you trust my driving?” This attitude needs to be challenged. Safety belts must be worn in all seats of a vehicle for the safety that they bring.

Stop for Pedestrians
The WHO report declared the alarming news that pedestrians constituted 28% of casualties in the UAE. It recommended the establishment of further pedestrian bridges, road crossings and cycle paths.

The pedestrian crossing is the most dangerous place on UAE roads. Lulled into thinking they have protection, pedestrians quickly discover that they do not have the right of way.

A massive education about pedestrian crossings is required in the United Arab Emirates to make people safe. The UAE road law must require, as some countries have introduced, that vehicles must stop when a pedestrian steps onto the crossing, even when they are on the other side of the road.

To see a car stop for a pedestrian at a crossing is such a rare sight that when it occurs the pedestrian looks astonished and then appears like a child walking across the stage to collect a prize.

Because of this crossing culture it is dangerous for drivers to stop for pedestrians. The likely result is for unsuspecting cars to ram you from behind. Drivers seeking to change the culture will usually decide to stop after ensuring that there are no cars close behind and as they slow to a stop they may activate their emergency lights to warn others that this unusual phenomenon is about to occur.

Beyond the need for education for both drivers and pedestrians, some other challenges for the Ministry of Interior include:
* Developing better signs (black and white poles, flashing yellow beacons, zig-zag road markings) to indicate the approach of a pedestrian crossing
* Repainting crossings where the paint has pealed or faded (this is needed especially in towns like Dhaid where the large number of trucks passing through the main street quickly erase the white lines)
* Installing different types of crossings which are appropriate to the width of the road, the volume of traffic and the speed zone.

Tailgating Must Stop
‘Tailgating’ is following too closely behind another car and UAE drivers are the greatest tailgaters in the world.

On the open road sometimes you sometimes find it takes longer to pass a stream of cars and trucks. The tailgater is one who steams up behind you, maintains a high speed and follows you within a few inches of your rear bumper at 120 kph! Some cars, especially sports cars and 4 Wheel Drives (SUVs) are the greatest culprits.

Tailgating is a concoction of speed, disrespect and arrogance. The excessive flashing of lights and tooting of the horn is road rage and the proximity to the rear of another car make this act one of gross intimidation.

Tailgating is extremely dangerous, especially in wet weather. It limits the ability of the tailgater to react swiftly to unforeseen events further along the road and it increases the chance of a pile up. About 40% of all collisions are of the rear end variety which might have been avoided by keeping the appropriate distance.

Tailgaters must be apprehended and all motorists must be taught how to determine a safe distance from the car ahead.

The Stop Sign Must Mean Stop
Newcomers to the UAE quickly have the experience of having cars thundering up behind with their drivers sounding the horns when they stop at a ‘STOP’ sign, especially when there are no cars approaching on the other road.

In the UAE, if you come to a ‘STOP’ sign and there are no other cars present you do not have to come to a standstill. However, the international traffic rules as defined by the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, declare that the ‘STOP’ sign in English and Arabic on an octagonal, red sign means Stop! Completely!

The STOP sign in the UAE must mean stop. If that is not the intention because it is not a critical or hazardous intersection the sign should be changed to a GIVE WAY sign.

God and Road Safety
A verse in the Holy Koran says: “The Lord of the worlds; it is He who heals me when I am sick, and He who would cause me to die and live again.” (Koran 26: 80) This truth resonates with scriptures in other traditions and implies that God is the creator, the giver of life and that our time is in God’s hands.

There is a common distortion of this truth that is disturbing. We hear it after there has been a fatal car crash in the UAE. Friends will say, “It was their time. In ša’ Allāh. When your number is called you’ve got to go.” This approach blames Allah for the deaths on the road. Allah is blamed not the senseless driver who was speeding way over the limit. This thinking is one of the greatest heresies in the UAE and it must be condemned. We must all take responsibility for our actions and stop blaming Allah or other people for our stupidity in breaking the law.

Allah Helps Those Who Help Themselves
An old saying from the Islamic tradition puts it well: “Trust in Allah and tie up your camel.” Perhaps a more contemporary rendering that expresses both God’s care and human responsibility is this: ‘Trust in Allah and do up your safety belt.’

Global Status Report on Road Safety, WHO, June 2009.
Speed Limiting Devices on All UAE Cars, ETE, 23 October 2008.
Reducing Traffic Accidents on UAE Roads, ETE, 20 December 2007.
UAE: The Tailgating Capital of the World, ETE, 16 October 2007.
What Does this Sign Mean in the UAE, ETE, 19 March 2007.
Road Safety in the UAE, ETE, 18 March 2007.

Dr Geoff Pound