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Judicial CP - November 1995

Detroit News, USA, 17 November 1995

United Arab Emirates turns to flogging, fear to cut soaring traffic death rate

By Michael Georgy

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Police guard Mohammad Taleb eyed rows of nervous prisoners swept up in a mounting crackdown on the No. 1 killer in the United Arab Emirates.

"We show them pictures of fatal accidents to frighten them. Those who cause injuries stay in prison as long as their victims are in hospital," he said, pointing to large photographs of wrecked cars.

It could be worse -- a flogging for some -- as the authorities in this Persian Gulf Arab state get tough with the legions of reckless drivers who contribute to one of the world's highest traffic death rates.

Last year alone there were more than 600 road deaths, over 6,000 injuries and nearly 16,000 car accidents in a land of only 2 million people where highways have speed bumps and driving tests can take years to pass.

Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE federation, already has resorted to hard-line measures to deter reckless driving.

Two youths were caned 30 times each this year before 2,000 people at the spot where they caused a fatal accident.

"Some people listen and others don't," said Col. Mohammad Samee, the UAE's director-general of traffic.

"Those who are not willing and cause traffic deaths should be flogged. If it works in Ras al-Khaimah, we will start flogging people across the country."

At the Abu Dhabi traffic department, the fervor of the nationwide safety drive is palpable.

An imposing green sign that reads "Speed Kills" in English and Arabic greets visitors in the car park.

Inside, colorful charts displaying the number of accidents per week, month and hour hang in offices as experts analyze the latest collision patterns.

Weekly lectures are delivered to hundreds of bus and taxi drivers as well as teen-agers. Motorists who seem unfit for the hazardous roads are given psychological tests.

And everyone is reminded that causing a deadly accident is punishable by as many as three years behind bars.

Capt. Said al-Matroushi, the chief accident investigator, sits at his desk as traffic violators stream into his office describing their side of the story.

One man walked in with a badly bruised face after the traffic court upstairs refused to deal with his case without proper documents.

"I can't get the papers, they were covered with blood in the accident," he pleaded. But Matroushi would not relent.

The authorities are also delivering the safety message on television and radio programs and in newspapers.

Police express rising frustration and many fear the toll of death and injury will only climb.

The leading road predators -- brazen teen-agers armed with powerful cars, oil money and idle time -- seem oblivious to the safety message, police say.

Every night scores of young men in flowing white robes with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on a mobile phone hit the streets in sleek limousines and thunderous four-wheel drive vehicles.

Interior ministry officials say those too young to drive legally are sometimes given the keys to their parents' cars.

"At night I try to stay off the roads. These kids try to swerve into my car and scare me for kicks," a taxi driver complained.

The crackdown has even netted foreigners visiting the UAE for a good time.

"Get me a neck brace," said Omani tourist Mahmoud Ali, facing the prospect of 80 lashes in addition to his whiplash, just before being locked up for drunk driving.

Copyright 1995, The Detroit News

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