Drivers who tailgate, force others out of a lane, sound their horns and flash their lights at other drivers are protected by anonymity behind the wheel, according to a physician who thinks personalities change when people get into a car.
“Imagine if we had to show our faces,” said Dr Karin Strasser, from Austria, who has lived and worked in Dubai for more than eight years.
“Would the driver still force his way through crowded public places, chase women away, scare children and the elderly, and brutally push aside whoever seems weaker?”
Her comments follow the release of YouGov’s perception study of driving in the UAE, commissioned by Zurich Insurance Middle East and Road Safety UAE, on Wednesday.
Fifty-three per cent of 1,000 residents surveyed said the UAE’s roads had become more dangerous during the past six months.
Two-thirds said they have seen more speeding vehicles on the roads. Sixty-five per cent reported an increase in tailgating, and three-quarters said they had seen a rise in distracted driving.
UAE residents are generally well behaved but their personality changes once they get into their cars, said Dr Strasser. “In large gatherings, people are calm, courteous and polite, often with a friendly smile on their faces,” she said.
Dr Strasser, who shared her thoughts on the Road Safety UAE website, often encounters vehicles tailgating, cutting into her lane at excessive speed, zigzagging through traffic during peak hours, and entering a main road without checking if it is clear.
“I’ve witnessed cars, engaged in a race, passing me simultaneously on both my right and left at speeds which have caused my car to sway,” she said.
“I’ve experienced my worst fear of driving while in Al Ain at one of the roundabouts. I heard my teenage niece in the back seat shrieking. A moment later, I realised why.
“I saw a heavy SUV on two wheels passing on the left with the cabin tilted towards us. And a few seconds later, another SUV on two wheels passed to our right.”
Encouragement and prevention, along with strict enforcement and education, are needed to enhance road safety, said Dr Strasser.
“Imagine if people could leave their anonymity behind by posting their photograph on the rear window as they do on Facebook” she said.
“Make it known that here’s a mother concerned with bringing her kids home safely. Here’s a father who is the provider for his family. Here’s an elderly couple not ready for a race.
“It could be synonymous with the message ‘Look here, don’t play with my life. Can you show your face as well?’”
Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE, agreed, saying: “I think it’s one creative approach to a relevant problem. Some people might not like this very idea, while others might like it a lot.
“It’s about leading by example and for sure, this proposal will bring some smiles on the faces of traffic participants.”
He said: “Maybe this idea will even go viral and touch a lot of people. We all need to contribute to the needed change of driving culture, and certainly, ‘thinking outside the box’ helps.”
But Sarah Brooks, a UAE Traffic Safety Ambassador, said: “Drivers who are reckless or carefree and unsafe can usually see whether the car they are bullying or harassing has a female driver or children in it, and it currently doesn’t appear to make a difference to them.
“Many of these drivers have passengers, wives, mothers, sisters or children in the car – usually children using the car like some kind of playground or jungle gym.
“Seeing a picture of the driver of the car in front is unlikely to have a positive effect on them,” said the 41-year-old human resources manager in Abu Dhabi.