Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wise up, reckless drivers!

Most of us know at least one Road Traffic Victim… I wish this weren’t so!

Today, November 20, is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic crashes kill nearly 1.3 million people every year and injure or disable as many as 50 million more. They are the leading cause of death among people aged 10-24 years.

Dad Esa -- Jeddah, 1950
It is a day I didn’t know was commemorated. It is very dear to my heart as I lost my dad, Esa, to a drink driving accident in December 1973. He was 65. Dad had just retired from a long spell as a civil servant and had embarked on a new life in his preferred profession of being a lawyer in Bahrain when he was hit one night by a young man driving under the influence of alcohol.

To be robbed of a husband and father because of a drunk driver, in Bahrain out of all places, is beyond words or words that can appear in print.

Reckless and drink driving is something that happens on the roads all over the world. But I was shocked at the speed of driving and recklessness and disregard for all highway codes in Dubai since I have been in Dubai.

Why don’t drivers signal? Why do they blind you with their headlights (I had one accident because of that)? Why do they drive so fast? Don’t they have families? Why? Why? And why do drivers have to use their mobiles on the road? What is so urgent? 

In October 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on governments to mark the third Sunday in November as World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. The day was created to give recognition to victims of road traffic crashes and the plight of their relatives who must cope with the emotional and practical consequences of their unexpected and tragic loss.

WHO and the UN Road Safety Collaboration encourage governments and NGOs around the world to commemorate this day to draw the public’s attention to road traffic crashes, their consequences and costs, and the precautionary measures liable to prevent them.

In May 2011, the international community marked the start of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. Governments acknowledged the threat of road traffic deaths to health and development, and committed themselves to the Decade goal of saving five million lives and preventing 50 million injuries. Some used this occasion to release national Decade plans and new road safety legislation targeted at drinking and driving, speeding and using helmets, seat-belts and child car seats.

WHO says 3000 people die on the world’s roads every day and several million are injured or disabled each year. About 124 people are dying every hour and hundreds are severely disabled and injured. It notes the Middle East and North Africa have above average road accident rates.

In Dubai, I found that the Suraya Foundation, a non-profit road safety organization, has partnered with educators, the media, the creative community and families who have been affected by tragic accidents to help spread the awareness of safe driving and educating the community on how safe driving can save lives.

Founder Mohd Shahnawaz knows first-hand what it is like to lose a loved one due to a reckless driving accident. His younger sister Suraya (read her story) was killed in a hit and run accident in March 2009. In honor of her memory, he has made it his goal to spread awareness on the dangers of reckless driving. 

By spreading emotionally compelling messages through awareness campaigns and mass media, the Suraya Foundation is hoping to change the attitudes of rash drivers and get them to drive safely.

One of the Suraya Foundation campaigns is “Take the Oath,” a project where you take a vow to be a safer driver on the road using a checklist as a guide.

WHO says UAE residents are seven times more likely to die in a car accident compared to UK inhabitants. Road accidents are the second major cause of deaths in the UAE, where car accident deaths have been increasing every year (except in 2009 when fatalities dropped 10 percent).

Most car accidents in the UAE, it says, are due to heedless driving. Experts suggest educating drivers and teaching them traffic safety and courteous driving rules could change this.

Indeed, last week I read about another accident, this time involving a cyclist… It was the case of another family robbed of a loved one.

An article in Daily Tech quotes UAE Police as saying traffic accidents dropped 40 percent in Abu Dhabi and 20 percent in Dubai in October, when millions of BlackBerry users around the world were disconnected for about four days.

On this day of remembrance, maybe it’s a good time to take the oath and be a safe driver. Please drive carefully and responsibly and be safe.