“Beep, beep, BEEEP, BEEEEEP”.
The traffic lights had turned green a millisecond ago and I hadn’t floored the accelerator immediately so the man (I assume it was a man, the front windscreen was so tinted I couldn’t see in) behind was letting me know how much inconvenience I was causing him.
I accelerated away, with him maintaining a minuscule gap between our vehicles, but had to slow down 200m later as the next set of lights turned red. Three minutes later I once again missed the “B” of the bang and was rewarded with another prolonged honking of the horn.
Thankfully shortly after this there was room for me to move over to another lane, allowing him to hurtle past, only to have to slam his brakes on straight away to stop ploughing into the next car that was daring to block his progress.
Just another day on the wild roads of Abu Dhabi.
I blogged about driving in the UAE soon after we arrived here. Sixteen months later I continue to be amazed at the standard of some of the driving and the complete lack of road etiquette.
In 2014 I spent two days a week on average (actually my spreadsheet tells me it was 42% of my working days) working in and around Dubai, so clocked up plenty of miles (more than 23,000) driving up and down the highway between the two cities. The road is good, rarely less than four lanes, on some sections seven. There isn’t much to see on either side of the road which means you can concentrate fully on your driving.
And concentrate is something you need to do here. Every second of any journey you make. On every side of the car.
I know that wherever you are driving you have to do this but it is completely different here from what I was used to after many years driving in the UK. You genuinely never know where the next hazard is going to come from.
It may be a traditional over taking manoeuvre. It may be a relatively normal under taking manoeuvre. It may be a complicated sequence of under and over taking, covering all four lanes in a matter of a few seconds just to gain a one place in the line of traffic. Of course, all of this happens without the use of indicators.
It may be a car ahead of you in the sixth of seven lanes on a relatively quiet stretch of road trundling along at 60km/h. It may be the car behind you that wasn’t there when you checked your rear view mirror a second ago, but has appeared out of nowhere doing at least 200km/h (the limit being 120).
It may be the car joining the highway, not from a traditional slip road, but by cutting across a patch of desert to save a few seconds. It may be the vehicle driving along the hard shoulder, not with the traffic, but against it.
I could go on. And on.
It’s challenging enough to deal with when the weather is good. If it is foggy (quite common on January mornings) or raining (the UAE equivalent of snow in the UK, a few drops and complete chaos ensues), then you are far better to stay off the roads.
Drivers here react in one of three ways to fog or rain.
The first group do not change their driving behaviour at all, continuing to hurtle down the road well over the speed limit, bullying anyone in front of them to get out of the way.
The second group immediately pull over to the hard shoulder and don’t move again until the weather improves. Usually without any lights on.
The third group do slow down to respect the conditions but they also put their hazard warning lights on. Driving becomes a complete lottery as you can see many sets of hazard warning lights emerging out of the fog / spray in front of you, but you have no idea whether the vehicles are stationary, or are still moving, and if so, at what speed.
Unsurprisingly this can be a recipe for disaster. In April 2011 127 cars were involved in a pile up on the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and in the first week of January this year I was lucky enough to just miss being involved in a huge crash in the fog, involving 114 cars (sometimes being an early starter has its advantages).
To be fair to the authorities they are doing what they can to reduce road accidents. There are far more speed cameras here than in the UK (too many to count between here and Dubai), and there are regular campaigns about the dangers of lane switching without warning, and tailgating. These initiatives are having an impact with the number of deaths decreasing. But there is still a long way to go.
Thankfully other than when I am working in Dubai, most of my journeys here are relatively short, and we don’t do many long journeys at weekends unless we are going away.
And when all is said and done, no matter how crazy the driving is sometimes, driving here in the sunshine is still more pleasurable than sitting on a motorway in North West England in a traffic jam in the driving rain wondering what time you are going to get home.
I’m sure I’ll return to the subject of driving again in the future, but that’s all for now.
Thanks for reading as always.
My journeys are measured using an “Automatic” wireless adapter plugged into the car’s diagnostic port and connected by bluetooth to an app on the phone. Caveat: the adapter is currently only intended to work with cars in the US, so whilst I can use it to track my journeys, I can’t use its other functions such as monitoring fuel usage or reporting maintenance issues with the vehicle.
The analysis, charts and map are from “Zenobase“, an excellent site for storing, aggregating and visualising data. All you need to do is connect it to your Automatic account and it will pull in the data and allow you to analyse it in lots of different ways.