On December 26, 2019, the UAE will witness an annular solar eclipse, when the moon will pass right in front of the sun’s centre, with the big star’s visible outer edges forming a bright circle - or ‘ring of fire.’ The UAE Space Agency has warned residents about the risks of looking directly at the sun without proper eye protection, and has stressed the importance of taking necessary safety measures by following general safety guidelines while observing the eclipse.
While there have been several partial solar eclipses in the UAE before, a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse is coming our way after a gap of 172 years, making it a super rare sighting opportunity. Since the last recorded annular eclipse in the UAE was back in 1847, it is safe to say that the impact such a phenomenon can have on traffic and road safety was not of consequence. However, things are different today, with over 3 million vehicles plying the UAE roads, making eclipse-related accidents a real and present possibility.
To avoid getting involved in fender-benders during the eclipse on the 26th, follow the below tips.
Do not drive
If you must watch the eclipse, plan ahead and make sure you’re not on the road at the time of the eclipse driving. There are many official viewing points that you can get to ahead of the eclipse. The UAE Space Agency is organizing events in collaboration with the International Astronomical Centre, at Liwa Hills Hotel, near Madinat Zayed in Al Dhafra. In addition, the agency is collaborating with the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre to organise an event at the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, and another in collaboration with Emirates Mobile Observatory at Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi. If you intend to be at any of these viewing locations, just make sure you reach there well ahead of time and not get stuck on the road.
Do not try to watch the eclipse while driving
A celestial event of such rarity and significance is ample reason for a driver to be distracted, so if you have no choice but to be on the road while the total eclipse happens, make sure you resist the temptation to look out the window or sunroof of your car. Staring at an eclipse is dangerous anyway. Even if you are carrying proper protective eyewear, and you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, do not wear the protective goggles while behind the wheel as these will hamper your visibility considerably and could lead to a crash. Also, if you are driving towards the east, position your sun visor in a way that it blocks your view of the sun.
Turn your headlights on
While the full eclipse or ‘ring of fire’, which will start at 7.25am, will last just about 3 minutes, the total duration of the eclipse will last two hours and 21 minutes. Naturally then, with the moon blocking the sun, expect the morning of December 26 to be significantly darker. So even if your car has automatic lights, it is advisable to manually switch the headlights on and leave them on low beam for the entire duration.
Watch out for pedestrians
If you are driving along busy city roads, keep an eye out for pedestrians, who are also likely to be distracted and possibly jostling to get the best view less aware of the surrounding. Be extra watchful near zebra crossings as it is possible that a random distracted pedestrian meanders in without paying attention to the lights.
Do not pull over by the highway
While it is definitely safer to watch the eclipse after pulling over, do not do that on the hard shoulder of highways like the 311 or the 611. While you might not be a danger to other motorists, the chances of a distracted driver straying off his lane and crashing on to your parked car are high.
Follow these tips and make sure you enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle safely.