ABU DHABI // Police will target young drivers guilty of speeding and using their phones at the wheel after a spike in the number of deaths on the roads.
Road safety experts have also called for a radical overhaul of driver training and major changes to motor insurance premiums to encourage better driving and cut the death toll.
The number of people killed in traffic accidents increased from 675 in 2015 to 725 last year, reversing a downward trend the previous year. Almost half of road accidents were caused by drivers aged between 18 and 30.
“They are our most important target,” Lt Gen Saif Al Shafar, undersecretary at the Ministry of Interior, said on Sunday at the opening of Gulf Traffic Week.
“The main causes for accidents in this age group are speeding, using phones behind the wheel and not keeping a safe distance between cars.
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“These are major issues, and we are trying to use social media to reach young adults. We need to educate them on the consequences of unsafe driving.”
There are 5.5 deaths on the roads per 100,000 people, and the aim is to reduce that to three per 100,000 by 2021, Lt Gen Al Shafar said.
In general, the main causes of road accidents are recklessness and inattention, sudden swerving, failing to leave a safe distance between vehicles and driving through red lights.
Phil Clarke, road safety consultant at the Transport Research Lab, called for strict background checks on drivers insuring their cars.
“There is no link between driving records and the cost of insurance,” Mr Clarke said.
“In Europe, everyone understands young drivers have a greater risk of committing offences, which means the cost of insurance for young drivers is very high.
“In some cases, if they commit offences in the early stages, their licences are revoked and they are sent back to being learner drivers.”
Here, young people tend to drive vehicles with high-powered engines and do not face additional expenses for insurance, Mr Clarke said.
“In other parts of the world, if a young driver wants to insure a Mercedes AMG, it would cost the same as buying a house.
“Punishments based on behaviour and not those that can be easily paid off will also bring about a change, because most young drivers here can pay their fines and get back on the road.
“They need to be educated on positive behaviour and not competitive behaviour during their driver training. Their inputs on attitudes while driving should also be put to the test.”
Educational institutions can play an important part in teaching children about safety on the roads, said Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE.
“Educational sectors need to play a bigger role in shaping young drivers. Teachers can correct the behaviour of their students and they can do so in the case of road safety too.”
A change in culture, rather than having specific rules, was necessary, Mr Edelmann said.
“Young drivers try to blend in with the driving culture here, which is very negative.
“Some have told us they do not use indicators while driving because they do not want to look inexperienced. This needs to change.”
Dubai is "seriously considering" lowering the driving age to 16, according to the emirate's top traffic cop.
People aged between 18-21 years old are less likely to cause road accidents and deaths, said Major General Mohammed Saif Al Zafeen, Head of Dubai Traffic Police.
He said that this fact has been revealed by a study that is currently being undertaken by both Dubai Traffic Police and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).
The study looked at road accident statistics of the past years.
"The fact that younger drivers are less likely to cause accidents has made us consider reducing the age for a driving licence to 16 years," said Maj Gen Zafeen.
Dubai Traffic Police has set a group of strict regulations to assure the safety of this drivers' age group, said Al Zafeen.
Motorcycle licences are given at age 17.
"Usually young people of this age are more curious to try driving," Al Zafeen added.
Driving motorcycles is more dangerous than driving cars, he pointed out, adding, “If teenagers at age 16 are allowed to get their driving licence that will prevent them from driving in illegal and dangerous ways threatening their own lives and the lives of others.”
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