Abu Dhabi: The UAE has all the potential to be the best country in the world in road safety or at least among the top five, said a senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official on Tuesday.

Traffic police and road authorities in different emirates have set ambitious goals to reduce fatality on roads, but the remark of Dr Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, is the first of its kind by an international expert that qualifies the UAE to top the list of safest countries in the world.

The UAE ranked 171 out of 179 countires in terms of road safety with 37.1 deaths per 100,000 of population according to the WHO in 2011.

UAE authorities, however, believe that the international estimation is too high and does not reflect the realiity. According to a top police officer in Dubai accident deaths on UAE roads fell from 21.7 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007 to just three in 2012.

Krug, who also chairs the International Organising Committee for World Conferences on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion and the UN Road Safety Collaboration said: "Some of the UAE’s legislations are good, but even the most perfect law in the world is only a piece of paper unless it gets transformed into action. And to do that we need the police to enforce the law and we need people to know. So we need campaigns to get the enforcement by the people."

The WHO official is currently in Abu Dhabi to take part in the 18th UN Road Safety Collaboration meeting.

While congratulating the UAE on its “beautiful and good quality” roads, he added that to achieve the ambitious goal the country has to work on several issues including legislations, drink driving, wearing of seatbelts, motorcycle helmets and child restraints.

“The zero road death by 2020 is an ambitious plan for the UAE, which has all the potential to be in the top five or even the best country in the world in road safety,” Dr Krug, told Gulf News.

“The country is well on its way to achieve its goal of zero death per 100,000 inhabitants by the year 2020, said Dubai Police chief Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim in April. The mortality rate on UAE roads which is around 3 per 100,000 of the population compares well with that of Scandivanian countries like Sweden where 2.9 deaths occur per 100,000 inhabitants, Tamim added.

Dr Krug said speeding is an issue in the UAE and failure to wear seatbelts is another issue that need to be addressed.

“Everybody is equal in front of the law and everybody is vulnerable on the road so everybody should abide by road speed limits and wears seatbelts,” he said.

Dr Krug said there are options for preventing road traffic crashes and for improving services for victims and their families. “The road safety and road victim NGOs who gather in Abu Dhabi for the meeting can be instrumental in catalysing the national and international response. They are an inspiration and a reminder that all societies and all of us as individuals need to step up our efforts. So many precious lives are at stake, and inaction is not an option.”

Dr Krug added that WHO is very happy to support the UAE in achieving its goal. “In a way this is why we have this meeting in the UAE capital to show our support and discuss a possible collaboration.”

He praised the UAE’s effort made on safety around schools, efforts to control speeding and to design good quality roads. “So I want to congratulate the UAE for the effort that has already been done, but more needs to be done to achieve the ambitious zero road death,” Dr Krug said.

The UN Road Safety Collaboration meeting, hosted by Abu Dhabi Municipality, updates partners on progress on the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 and discusses progress on global road safety initiatives.