Thursday, 19 July 2007

Road Runner and the Radar Rotters

One of the things that’s kept me so long in the UAE is the fact that it’s such a very paradoxical place: there’s never one simple answer or one simple fact, a single explanation or a unitary truth. Even better, the variety of complexities are usually deliciously oppositional.

For instance, we enjoy one of the world’s lowest crime rates and live in one of the safest environments the globe has to offer. And at the same time the number of deaths on our roads is remarkably high – traffic accidents are an everyday commonplace, so much so that, with humanity’s remarkable penchant for adaptability, we tend to accept driving past the blood-chilling wreckage of interlocked cars as a mere fact of life. Many actually slow down for a good old peek, an Eastern morbid fascination that irritates those from the West, who fidget and moan at the delays caused by the rubberneckers.

The response to a number of high profile road tragedies and the consequent growing howl of outrage from media and public was to introduce a huge number of new speed cameras. I don’t know how much radar the human body can cope with, but many of us are now being multiply irradiated daily (as well as being RFIDed by the glorious Salik system!) as the vast network of fixed and mobile radars grows. They’re springing up everywhere, particularly the mobile ones.

And the mobile ones are most fun.

It’s like Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner out there, it really is. They set them up behind bushes, traffic signs, concrete blocks, dustbins or any other roadside impediment they can find. They park up on the roadside with the radar gun and flash unit in front of the bonnet, set up by the tailgate or snuck into the back of an estate car. There’s even one unit that’s a van with a circular and rectangular window cut into the back to accommodate the hardware.
All it needs is a sign on the side saying 'ACME Radar Unit'...

They set up the cameras and park their, usually relatively distinctive (in the Khawaneej area you’ll find a silver estate and a sea-green metallic hatchback are the cars of choice) motors around the corner so you don’t spot ‘em. One of them has the delightful habit of parking his car on the hard shoulder and putting the camera 200 meters or so back up the road from it so that the radar catches you before you slow down in case the car is a radar unit. This is only averagely sneaky – there’s one bozo in Sharjah who likes to set up his mobile camera a hundred metres or so after one of the fixed cameras, so they get you as you speed up past the fixed one. Like I said, it’s Road Runner style stuff!

But the one that really fires me up is the joker who sets up on my way to work: the Academic City road between Khawaneej and the Al Ain road. This four-lane stretch of gently curving asphalt runs through 100% desert: there’s not a house, factory or other building on it. If ever there was a road that should carry a 120kph limit (the UAE maximum), this was it. And the limit, insanely, is 80. It’s almost impossible to drive that stretch of long desert road at 80kph. You’d go mad. They’d find you naked and running, gibbering, through the ghaf trees.

So it’s rich pickings for our evilly giggling little friend. Convention dictates that radar cameras in the UAE trigger at 20kph above the limit. So you do 101kph down the Academic City road and he’s nailed you with a Dhs200 fine.

But wickedness can bring out the best in people. UAE nationals, expats, Europeans, Indians, Pakistani truck drivers and all – I’ve watched as drivers warn others about the hidden camera, flashing hazard lights, brake lights or even putting arms out to flag down those jazzing it up in the fast lane. I have thanked and been thanked in my turn by others as people from around the world are brought together, for a few brief and human seconds, by the collective desire to save our fellow men from the predatory and unfair practices of the Radar Rotter.

1 comment:

Gianni said...

Well, I think an oncoming motorist flashing his headlights is internationally known to mean "cops ahead, watch out!".

My bozo sets up in a white minivan, always on the same bend. The funny thing is that although everybody and his brother knows about this oddly parked vehicle, he still manages to score.

There is a proverb in this country who translates roughly to "The cretin's mother is always pregnant"...

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