Two four-wheel Land Cruisers sent a quick alert to the column of cars running behind them in a relatively busy street in the capital when they suddenly screeched their tyres to reduce their speed.
The two speeding vehicles forced dozens of cars behind them to abruptly slow down as the two motorists tried to escape being hunted by a tiny traffic camera concealed under a small tree in the middle of the road.
The two drivers were lucky as the camera did not flash but they narrowly escaped being hit by the other vehicles, which were also endangered by cars behind them. The alert did work as no vehicle on the road was caught by the camera, which was mounted on a small tripod.
The small black cameras have been absent from Abu Dhabi roads for nearly a month as the traffic police apparently wanted to give a break to drivers and ease their financial burden from possible traffic fines during the fasting month.
Traffic authorities in the capital have vowed to step up a drive to catch reckless motorists following a decision to slash traffic fines to encourage drivers to respect road rules. Besides mobile cameras, massive pylons fitted with speed and security cameras are being erected in the city while the famous red and white traffic police cars have boosted their presence on roads.
Little portable cameras, known as Qannas (hunter), have also been supplied to police patrols and cars driven by civil staff members of the traffic police.
The new advanced mobile cameras are so small that they can hardly be detected from a distance as policemen who install such devices leave them unmanned. The two Land Cruiser drivers succeeded in detecting that camera because they saw a traffic policeman leaping away from the tree after fitting the camera.
“These cameras are more effective than the fixed cameras but they are not enough on their own,” said a traffic police man who planted the camera among saplings in the middle of Alkhaleej road leading to the Corniche street.
“Some drivers might see them and others might not…the point is that we do not want to hunt for fines but to tell the drivers that these cameras could be everywhere. In other words, we want to warn them that all roads are monitored.”
The sophisticated compact cameras, planted mostly on busy roads inside the city, are part of a campaign by the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police to curb road violations following a 70 per cent increase in speed offences in 2009.
Police figures showed a staggering 2.22 million traffic offences were committed in the capital last year, including nearly 1.62 million related to excessive speed.
“There was an increase of around 70 per cent in speeding offences in Abu Dhabi last year…we issued around 1.629 million fines for speeding out of the total 2.22 million traffic offences,” Colonel Hamad Adeel Al Shamsi, Director of Traffic and Patrols Department at the Abu Dhabi Police, said in a recent study.
“Non-compliance with speed limits is the main cause of traffic accidents which result in deaths and sever injuries. Speeding accounted for 33 deaths and 22 severe injuries last year,” he told a recent seminar in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi has been locked in a drive to crackdown on traffic offenders following a surge in road offences that have resulted in hundreds of casualties and turned the emirate into one of the countries with the highest road accident rates.
Despite its dangers, speeding has been excluded from offences that involve black points but fines were sharply raised during 2009. Early this year, traffic police decided to cut them by half to encourage drivers to respect road laws.
“Fixed cameras are no longer enough. These small cameras could surprise the drivers who would not know where they are planted,” a policeman said. “By shifting the location of these cameras continuously, drivers will be more careful and will drive within the speed limits through the streets of the city.”
Abu Dhabi Police have long used mobile speed cameras on roads outside the capital and motorways leading to other emirates but have just started deploying them heavily inside the city for the first time. The police usually pick busy long streets inside the city of nearly one million people and avoid small roads and residential areas, where most motorists would normally drive carefully.
While the deployment of the new tiny candid cameras on roads have become a talk of the town, most drivers do not know where they are planted. “They usually install it behind a tree or among plants…it is very small and is mounted on a tripod…you can see it when you come close but by then it is too late as it will catch you,” said Hani Zeidan, an Abu Dhabi resident.
The mobile cameras are part of an overall strategy by the Abu Dhabi Police to limit road accidents and put an end to reckless driving. “There will be more extensive police patrols, under cover patrols, traffic CID and comprehensive police stations traffic control campaigns to curb the phenomenon. Police will concentrate on hot spots round the clock,” Colonel Hamad said. “The aim is to spread awareness on the road and among offending motorists. Paying the fine but not changing your behaviour is not enough. The offender should blame himself first before being blamed by the Police Department.”
Police attributed the high accident rate to non-compliance with traffic rules, mainly over-speed, jumping the red signal, reckless driving and other offences.
Introduction of stiffer penalties, installation of more speed cameras, and reinforcement of police patrols have failed to deter drivers and cut accident rates, which totalled around 10,500 in Abu Dhabi and the other emirates last year.
Interior ministry figures showed an average 29 road mishaps occurred in the UAE daily last year, resulting in the death of 1,071 people during the year. More than half of them were Asian workers and 251 were UAE nationals.