Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Blame Somebody, Anybody!

For as long as I've lived in the Middle East, I've always been struck by the culture of blame that exists here. Somebody hit your car while it was parked? Well if you hadn't parked it there it wouldn't have been hit, therefore you are partly to blame. I've heard horrible stories of off-duty doctors being fined and jailed because they tried to help accident victims who subsequently died.

So the front-page story in Emirates Today was most welcome: the director-general of Dubai police's traffic department says that drivers who accidentally kill pedestrians 'should not always be fined'. He is referring to the idiots who try to cross our busy highways. I had not been aware up until this point that the unfortunate drivers that this has happened to face a Dhs 200,000 fine. Plus the diya (blood money).

Actually it is incredible that any driver on a highway should be held responsible for hitting somebody trying to cross the road on foot. But the problem needs to be addressed. Highways in the UAE are not accorded any special status, they are just roads where cars can travel fast without having to stop for traffic lights. Although I did pass a forklift truck trundling along SZR this morning.

In the UK, motorways are definitely not ordinary roads: the traffic allowed on them is restricted to vehicles capable of using them properly (nothing slow, nothing with a 'learner' plate and certainly nothing on foot). But in the UK there are footbridges where they are needed, and alternative routes for non-motorway traffic.

There have been times when I've contemplated crossing SZR on foot. I work in Media City, and I have some clients directly across the road in the Emaar Business Centre. So it's a toss-up between a five-minute seriously life-threatening trot across the Sheikh Zayed Road, or a 30-minute drive around the roadworks. The drive always wins.