Dubai: At every gathering there is one common topic discussed and debated: traffic. Some say it’s getting better, others believe it’s taking a turn for the worse. We brought the Dubai Police Traffic Chief Major General Mohammad Saif Al Zafein to our studio at Radio 2 where he took reader questions. Our team of journalists, Bassma Al Jandaly Anupa Kurian, Sanya Nayeem, Heather Madore and Huda Tabrez highlighted reader concerns, which Maj Gen Al Zafein addressed.
Dubai Traffic Police will launch a campaign to curb tailgating and reckless driving, Maj Gen Al Zafein said. Residents complained that many motorists do not keep proper vehicular distance, bully other drivers and change lanes recklessly. “Dubai Police are doing a campaign, two months from now to deal with this issue. We are confiscating cars, but we do not want to fine just for fining people, we need to change the mindset. And people should not accept this kind of behaviour from others. Call 8004353 and report it,” Maj Gen Al Zafein said.
The other common sight is children virtually dangling out of cars or sitting in the front seat. The traffic police chief said parents must take responsibility. Police are doing the best they can, but adults must be role models.
Vans and heavy vehicles trouble other motorists with poor lane discipline, often intimidating others. Maj Al Zafein said 35,000 fines were issued to heavy vehicles and buses. He feels there should be separate roads for heavy vehicles. Dubai Police are working with the Roads and Transport Authority to sort the issue out.
On drivers texting and eating while driving, he said 44,000 motorists were fined last year. “The problem is huge and we are trying. People say they’re at a traffic signal and have stopped when using the phone, so shouldn’t be a problem. I say, don’t hold the device or use it when driving. The scale of the problem is big.”
Residents say when there are police on the road, motorists behave themselves. He said: “It is not our role to put police presence everywhere at all times. There are people who do not respect traffic laws, so we have to change that behaviour. I want to know from motorists — do they think there is enough police presence on the roads? Based on that I can take a decision.”
The following is the full text of the interview.
Reader question: Children not wearing seatbelts, hanging out of cars and overall poor child safety on roads— what are Dubai Police doing about it?
Major General Mohammad Saif Al Zafein: Dubai Police are doing their job — we’re doing the best we can, but it is also the job of the parents. We are confiscating cars, issuing fines, impounding cars... poor safety of children in cars is an illegal activity. However, parents need to remember that they’re role models. I do not have a definite date on when the law for seatbelts in the back will become a law. Parents must be responsible. We are not being good role models for our children. The police are doing several campaigns, including distributing car seats — we gave 300 car seats last year. But parents and adults have a responsibility. Children below two years need a car seat or at least be seated with their parents in the back — the mother should be holding them at all times, when there are no child seats in the back. Adults need to teach through their conduct.
Question: Vans and trucks show poor lane discipline, carry large loads that are not tethered properly, which is a traffic hazard. Why is not enough being done to stop them?
Answer: Dubai police are doing their best. We issued 20,000 violations for heavy vehicles and 15,000 fines for buses in general. I don’t think heavy vehicles should use the same roads as light vehicles. There should be separate roads for heavy vehicles. We are working with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to sort it out because these vehicles account for 20 per cent of traffic but are responsible for 40 per cent of fatalities. There is no law that specifies the amount of weight or load a heavy vehicle can carry, our colleagues at the RTA have to work on this one. This is a technical issue. When there is an overturning or accident of such heavy vehicles, it causes really a problem especially in terms of the damage… the RTA needs to address it.
Question: Texting, talking on the phone, eating, reading the paper while driving — why are the authorities not enforcing a hands-free mobile usage policy?
Answer: I notice this behaviour all over the world, people cannot do without their phones. Last year we gave tickets to 44,000 drivers. The problem is huge and we are trying. People say they’re at a traffic signal and have stopped when using the phone, so shouldn’t be a problem. I say, don’t hold the device or use it when driving. The scale of the problem is big... people don’t seem to care or listen because they feel an accident has not happened, yet. But something can go wrong in a second. And God forbid they end up paying a high price. I urge people to not use the phone or hold the device when driving. It’s a distraction. Also, I’ve seen people dressing while driving, using make-up, eating and so on. People are not paying attention. People need to pay attention. People’s safety is in their hands. They must protect themselves and others.
Question: What can cyclists or motorcyclists do if they are abused or disrespected on the road by other drivers?
Answer: I am against cyclists on the main roads, it is very dangerous. There are no separate lanes for them. There is no provision in our law for it. When there is an accident, there is too much damage to the cyclist. It is very dangerous. Motorcyclists, too, need to be careful, they are vehicles that have the same speed as cars. In case of an accident, the damage is too much, especially for them. And, I also see that some motorcyclists refuse to abide by the rules. So, be careful. We have a programme that is called ‘We are all policemen’ — so, in case of trouble, call 8004353 to get help and advice from Dubai Police. If you see anything wrong happening on the road, call this number to get help. The person will get a call. He may or may not be fined but it will serve as a warning.
Question: People do not maintain proper vehicular distance, there are bully drivers, reckless lane changing and tailgating — what are Dubai Police doing?
Dubai Police are doing a campaign, two months from now to deal with this issue. We are confiscating cars, but we do not want to fine just for fining people, we need to change the mindset. And people should not accept this kind of behaviour from others. Call 8004353 and report it.
People do speed sometimes in case of emergencies. But, every body seems to be in a hurry every day! Motorists need to change their behaviour. I feel the problem is the 20km/hour grace speed in the fast lane. So, don’t use the fast lane if you are driving at 100km/hour. Move out of the fast lane. The fast lane is for people using the grace speed, so give way. By the laws of physics with tailgating, when people drive at 120km/hour, an accident will result in serious injuries equivalent to falling from the 19th floor of a high rise building.
Question: Zebra crossings — sometimes people give way to pedestrians, quite often they don’t. Is there a law for giving way to pedestrians?
Answer: When you have zebra crossings without traffic lights — it is a trap. Some drivers stop, others don’t and this can cause accidents. So, do not stop at zebra crossings if there are no traffic lights. We are asking the RTA to have traffic lights on all zebra crossings.
Uncontrolled zebra crossings cause a dilemma for pedestrians and motorists. They don’t know whether to cross or not, where to drive or not. However, if as a driver you see a person has started walking let him or her pass and, if possible, signal to the car in the adjoining lane to stop, too. But, if you are a pedestrian, do not use uncontrolled crossings.
Question: When there is police presence on the road, drivers behave better — the flow of traffic is smooth. Why isn’t there more sustained traffic police presence on the roads?
Answer: It is not our role to put police everywhere at all times. But, this is something you see all over the world. Some people will be sneaky and violate laws when not being observed. There are people who do not respect traffic laws, so we have to change that behaviour. The best you can do is call 8004353. I want to know from motorists — do they think there is enough police presence on the roads? I want to know. Based on that I can take a decision.
Question: Smoking while driving and tossing cigarette butts out of the car — why is nothing being done to stop it?
Answer: Frankly speaking tossing cigarettes out of the car is not right. I’m against it. So, if you see it, call 8004353. It is a traffic violation and bad behaviour.
Question: Taxi drivers suddenly stop to pick up passengers, leading to blocks and sometimes narrow accident misses. Can this not be stopped?
Answer: I agree, taxi drivers, they stop suddenly. But, this is because the RTA are not educating their drivers enough. The drivers sometimes quickly use the indicator to show that they’re not violating the law and change lanes but are causing problems.
Question: People say the traffic problem is because people are getting issued driving licences very easily? What do you say to that?
Answer: I’ve heard rumours about the ease of issuance of licenses by RTA. You need to investigate this. I cannot answer this.