If you're on an Abu Dhabi street, you're on camera

Hundreds of advanced security cameras on its streets in a fresh bid to curb reckless driving. (FILE)

Abu Dhabi is deploying hundreds of advanced security cameras on its streets in a fresh bid to curb reckless driving which is blamed for turning the emirate into one of the most dangerous traffic places in the world.

A massive drive launched over the past years has failed to deter speeding and reckless drivers despite heavier penalties, expanded police patrols and the installation of fixed and mobile speed cameras.

The new sophisticated compact cameras which stare at almost every car using the capital’s roads are part of the ongoing campaign 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,” said Colonel Hamad Adeel Al Shamsi, Director of Traffic and Patrols Department at  the Abu Dhabi Police.

Huge T-shaped pylons have been erected over the past few weeks through the Capital and on motorways, with two tiny cameras dangling from each pylon on both directions. Security sources said over 600 cameras had been deployed.

The cameras are designed to hunt reckless drivers who perform risky stunts on the road or disturb other motorists. They could also detect those who drive without fastening the seat belts or those who use mobile phones whiling driving.

Most of the pylons have already been fitted with such cameras on opposite directions of the road and more cameras will be installed in the next weeks.

The pylons have been erected just 200 metres within each other and this will allow the traffic police to control all vehicles on the road.

“The cameras will also enable police to track down those who cause accidents because they will be filmed,” a security source said.

“We have noticed an improvement in road discipline and compliance with traffic rules…we hope these cameras will effectively curb accidents,” one source said.

Motorists in Abu Dhabi said they had already felt such an improvement except for a handful of young reckless drivers who apparently want either to challenge such systems or are not aware of the cameras’ capabilities.

“It is really much better now,” said a Sri Lankan taxi driver, who came to Abu Dhabi around eight months ago. “When I first came, the roads were in a mess…these cameras appear to be a good deterrent.”

Besides security cameras, Abu Dhabi police have stepped up the use of tiny mobile speed cameras in and around Abu Dhabi city since they announced that traffic fines would be halved in a bid to encourage discipline four months ago.

Abu Dhabi traffic police have blamed speed and disregard of road regulations for the high accident rate, which has forced the emirate to spend more funds on campaigns to deter drivers and lessen accident risks.

The campaigns include intensified road patrols, mobile and fixed cameras, black points for traffic offences, and media awareness campaigns.

But Abu Dhabi and other parts of the UAE have maintained their position as having one of the world’s highest road accident rates relative to the population.

Introduction of stiffer penalties last year, 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 the UAE in 2009.

Interior ministry figures showed an average 29 road mishaps occurred in the UAE daily last year, resulting in the death of 1,071 people. More than half of them were Asian workers and 251 were UAE nationals.

“Reckless driving, inattentiveness and sudden skidding by motorists are among the main causes which led to accidents, deaths and serious injuries in Abu Dhabi,” Colonel Hamad said.

He cautioned motorists who do not comply with traffic rules that there will be undercover patrols inside the Capital and on highways.

“Offences like using expired tires, jumping the red light, non-adherence to lanes and traffic signs and non-attentiveness will be strictly monitored,” he said.

In September, the Ministry of Interior launched a campaign under the theme "Together to Reduce Traffic Accidents", which continued until the end of February. More campaigns are planned this year.