Young Emiratis blamed for high car accident rate

Two thirds of the respondents said they were involved in accidents (File)

Young Emiratis' attitudes, values, and response to peer pressure are behind the alarming number of UAE car  accidents, injuries and fatalities, according to a new study sponsored by the Emirates Foundation for  Philanthropy.

The study, conducted by two faculty members from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at UAE University, aimed at identifying the reckless driving practices adopted by young Emirati males who are frequently cited for the rate of car accidents, which is very high by international standards. Dr Taha Amir and Dr Shamma Al Falasy identified the factors that contribute to this behaviour.

Some 576 males and females in the age range 18-33, from towns throughout the country were investigated in the study. One of the three groups surveyed consisted of 466 young Emirati males. A second group consisted of 52 young female Emiratis and a third group consisted of 58 young Arab expatriates. The study data was collected by 98 students from UAE University.

The study showed that the three groups were dissimilar on key aspects related to violations and risky driving practices. The female Emiratis and Arab expatriates adhere more to speed limits than the male Emiratis who appear to thrive on risk and do not abide by traffic and safety rules.

The findings showed that nearly 60 per cent of the three groups claimed that they started driving surreptitiously or with parental permission before the legal age of 18 (7.3 per cent between 8 to 12 years and 52 per cent between 13 and 17). Almost two thirds stated that they had been involved in one or more car accidents and more than a quarter reported that they suffered injuries in accidents.

With regard to reckless driving, responses from young Emiratis indicated that up to a quarter of young Emirati males admit that they engage in risky driving practices. Most of the time, if not always, they exceed speed limits, overtake using the wrong lane, intrude to force way and tailgate. A very small minority of young Emirati males (2.6 per cent) admitted that they always, or most of the time, jump the red traffic light which police consider the most hazardous driving practice.

Study findings also revealed that up to half of the young Emirati males in the present sample stated that they are engaged in one or more risky and/or illegal driving practices: not putting on a seatbelt, using mobile phone while driving, stopping car in inner lane to chat with another driver and driving in the wrong direction down a one-way street.

Safety measures which drivers are advised to observe, although not legally binding, are not popular among Emirati young males, the study adds. They eat and drink while driving, do not use indicators to indicate direction, and do not use a hands-free set if engaged in conversation on a mobile phone.

Some of the Emiratis surveyed are strongly tempted to overtake if the car they are driving is fancier than the one in front - a pattern that behaviourists ascribe to "an expression of superiority". Some 16 per cent state that they mostly will overtake the car in front if the driver is an expatriate or from another emirate, which is a behavior that scientists call "territoriality", which refers to the individual's attempt to define, occupy and defend what he considers his own territory.

An important finding is that tailgating - approaching cars from behind at high speed, flashing lights to budge cars out of the way, changing lanes quickly and cutting off cars - is seen as respected behaviour among many Emirati young males, as is obtaining reductions in traffic fines.

Abiding by the speed limit, maintaining a clear distance behind cars in front, wearing seatbelts, and stopping to make mobile telephone calls are often considered unmanly or cowardly - or practices followed only by "unskilled drivers." Dr Amir pointed out that the predominant causes of traffic accidents and their tragic repercussions were human factors, not related to the road or to vehicle condition. Behaviour, beliefs and dominant role models behind the rising number of car accidents had to be addressed, he added.

"Changing the attitudes, beliefs and values that are behind reckless driving is not going to be easy or quick," he said, noting that besides the law enforcement bodies (the police and judiciary), a priority is to engage experts in human behaviour.

Only a management strategy that is long-term, patient, persistent and consistent can work, he said. As many government institutions, social organisations and individuals with special standing in the community as possible should be recruited and involved actively in the campaign.
An important starting point was the strict regulations taken by the Interior Ministry and other concerned departments to monitor, detain, and penalize traffic violators.

Social organisations, such as football clubs, mosques and schools, as well as the media, should demonstrate that the values promoting reckless driving are both foolish and dangerous, and that this behaviour pattern goes against all human values, including religious ones.

The Emirates Foundation's Director of Information and Administration, Mohanna Al Muhairi, said that the Foundation had funded the study to identify some of the root causes behind the rising road accidents rate and to contribute to a national dialogue on ways to mitigate them.

He added: "The basic objective is to secure a safe environment for drivers and people to ensure a better life for all citizens."

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