Sunday, 24 March 2013

UAE Driving. We Need To Change The Moral Climate.

Watch out for Kids 1940s Sign
(Photo credits:
There has been some disbelief expressed on Twitter this morning as The National's story on UAE national footballer Hamdan Al Kamali and his involvement in a new road safety campaign to ask reckless drivers to consider the people they'll leave behind. (Mind you, there's been more expressed about this rather silly post on The National's blog!)

Kamali's best friend, talented footballer and fellow member of the natioanal team Theyab Awana, died two years ago in a car crash when he ploughed into a parked lorry whilst texting. He was driving Kamali's car and was on the way to Kamali's house at the time he died. The two had grown up together, gone to training camp together.

Kamali freely admits he was a former 'bad boy' on the roads himself. He'd thought nothing about driving at 180kph and above. It is this that seems to have got Twitter in a twist (or, as Gulf News would have it, 'Twitter outrage') - why should we listen to a young man who quite clearly has no compunction about driving like a lunatic?

I find myself at odds with the tide of opinion. I don't think it's about whether we listen to him - it's about his peer group and whether they'll listen to him. The young men - and women - who look up to him, who would listen to a member of the national football team, of an age with themselves. Who would follow the example of a young man who holds his hand up and says, 'I did what you do every day. And I have had the opportunity, at an appalling personal price, to consider the consequence. And now I stand as an example for change.'

It think that's an incredibly powerful message. And it's timely. We're finding out that the law alone will not change things (it's all too infrequently applied. I was recently badly cut up by a speeding lunatic on the Emirates Road only to find out my aggressive friend was wearing a Dubai police officer's uniform). We have pretty much a radar every 2 kilometers and yet you'll still look around to find a Lexus or FJ Cruiser glued to your rear giving it disco lights when you're already topping out the speed limit including the 20kph 'grace'. And the accident rate on the UAE's roads is still unacceptably high - particularly among young Emiratis.

I was involved in a round table chat gig a couple of years ago at Dubai Men's College. People from the private sector are invited in just to chat with groups of students for a couple of hours. I quite enjoyed it and we all learned lots from each other. I was considerably taken aback when our chat moved to driving and my youthful friends started talking about the friends and relatives they had lost to mad driving. 'What can we do? It's in our blood! It's something we do, how we express ourselves.' were typical comments.

So Kamali, poacher turned gamekeeper, is surely worth a shot. If his campaign for drivers to consider others, not their victims on the road but family and friends - the ones they'll leave behind, results in even the slightest change in the moral environment, in attitudes towards driving in the UAE, it will have been well worthwhile.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in The National, the opinions of its Emirati 'speed freak' commentator are triggering more and more of a Twitter backlash, with Kipp Report finally giving us that 'Twitter outrage' story! :)
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