Dubai: Thomas Edelmann is no stranger to the UAE. Talk about anything to do with road safety and his is one of the first names that comes to mind. As founder of RoadSafetyUAE, the country’s first road safety portal which has just completed 10 years, the Dubai-based Austrian expat’s campaign for safe roads was no happenchance.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, he lets on, “In my younger years back in Vienna, my favourite aunt was working for a driving school. I enjoyed visiting her and listening to the instructors at the end of their working day when they all met, joking about the students and sharing their observations and funny stories. I guess those days somehow ignited my interest for road safety.”
When he was old enough, he pursued his own driving education. “I was lucky enough to do it with the owner of the same driving school. Besides learning how to drive cars and motorcycles in the safest possible manner, I also enjoyed the technical and theoretical part,” he says.
Fast forward to October 2003, and Edelmann, who had moved to Dubai three years earlier, was motivated enough to start his own initiative to advocate road safety.
Biggest car possible
“Literally, from the first time we set foot in Dubai, road safety became very important to me. I still remember the first time we came for a familiarisation weekend, when a speeding burgundy car almost hit our taxi while leaving the airport. When we bought our first car, my wife Yolande and I decided to buy the biggest we could possibly buy, just to make sure that our son Oliver was well protected in the back and in his child seat,” he adds.
As Edelmann sees it, campaigning for the cause of road safety is very important and rewarding. “When you think about how we all move around daily, it is fair to say that road safety touches all of us, every single day. We commute for work, complete chores and shopping, bring our children to school, kids are in school buses, ride their bikes, skateboards and scooters. We use forms of micro-mobility like bicycles and e-scooters, we cross the roads …. and we want to arrive safely wherever we go and when we return home. This daily relevance is what makes road safety so special. It makes it so ‘campaign-able’,” he reasons.
According to him, one does not have to explain what road safety is, as everyone is aware of it and its importance. “All we need are daily refreshers for us to behave safely,” he points out.
Edelmann says much has changed for the better on UAE roads over the years. “Most notably, the number of fatalities on our roads has dropped from 561 in 2013 to 343 in 2022, representing a decline of 39 per cent. We have seen a series of amendments to the laws and rules and most importantly, in 2017, the introduction of the holistic seat belt law, meaning that back-seat passengers, including children, are also now mandated to wear seat belts and proper child restraint systems, respectively,” he says.
Fasten that seat belt: The single biggest opportunity in road safety.
Begin early: Road safety needs to be taught to children early on - via mandatory school curriculum content tight from kindergarten.
Care to care: A caring attitude is the backbone of any good road culture. Road users need to be educated about politeness, good manners, etiquette, and the need to care about their own safety and that of others.
Do not run late: Proper time management helps foster good behavior on the roads.
Focus on micro mobility: Follow the rules, whether you are using rented or private devices.
Build data: Information is the basis to track the progress of the critical dimensions of road safety, meaning the main causes of accidents (lane swerving, tailgating, etc.)
Cap on driving hours: Especially relevant for truck drivers and bus drivers to fight fatigue.
“Dubai was certainly not the city it is today when I arrived in 2000,” he recalls. “The iconic Burj Al Arab had just opened and there were a few hotels far out there, on the beach which is now called Jumeirah Beach. But not much more. The transformation I have witnessed in the last 24 years has been just breathtaking.”
Business park that resembled a holiday resort
He says he first came to Dubai when he followed his wife who got a job offer from an international company. He started to work for a global technology company in the payments industry with whom he stayed for more than 10 years. “It was a fantastic and exciting time. We were below 20 people in the old World Trade Centre from more than 10 countries. Later, we moved as the first major international company into the brand-new Dubai Internet City, working in a business park that resembles a holiday resort with lakes, fountains, and palm trees. Sometimes we were standing out there at the lake, not really comprehending that we were so lucky to be able to live and work in Dubai,” says Edelmann.
He specially recalls his times living in Jumeirah 1, just behind the old Dubai Zoo, in the first five years. “In the mornings, one could hear the lions roar and could see the giraffes with their long necks peeking out of their enclosure. It was just magic. Awesome and truly Middle Eastern,” he adds.
He is very grateful to the UAE which he says has always been good to his family. “We enjoy the lifestyle here, including my passion for hiking, the desert, exploring the country, golf, running, scuba diving, and more. Dubai has been the first and probably last station of my expat life and as Dubai is so transient, many of our good friends have moved on over the years, which obviously leaves this bittersweet taste. Of course, it is wonderful to get to know them and to spend great moments together, but it is not so nice to see them moving on. Certainly, we can now visit pretty much all corners of the globe and we have friends there who we met here in Dubai, he notes.
He is also thankful that he was able to leave the “golden cage” of the corporate world, and embark on a mission for road safety in the UAE. “I wanted to give back to the country and to work for a cause of significant importance to the country. I wanted to leave something meaningful behind,” he says.
After 10 years of a successful campaign, he feels nothing can give him more satisfaction than his dream mission.
“Follow your passion and you will be successful – I guess this has been my biggest learning in the UAE,” he concludes.