Thursday, November 4, 2010

Drive me crazy

During our days in Hong Kong, I frequently commented on the standards of driving on the roads of the Big Lychee. It was not as if driving in Hong Kong was particularly dangerous when compared to other Asian countries (given the small number of roads and the large volume of traffic, it was actually quite difficult to go fast enough to do any thing particularly dangerous although the minibus drivers did there best.... By contrast during a visit with my Father to Beijing last Christmas we saw the after effects of 4 recent crashes in the space of a 20 minute cab ride from our Hotel to the Forbidden City). There were however certain local idiosyncrasies that would occasionally cause a road user disquiet – the habit of minibus drivers of stopping dead in the middle of the road with the only outward sign that this was likely to happen was the hazard signs being switched on a millisecond beforehand, the daredevil practices of certain taxi drivers (as described here: and the challenges of driving during a black rain storm. However, moving to UAE has certainly brought the different driving styles between the Middle East and the Far East into sharp focus. For a start, the cars here tend to bigger – 4WD SUVs including various Hummers and Hummer wannabes. There are also more, and longer, roads. The Sheikh Zayad Road (SZR) is a six lane highway that starts near my office in Dubai and ends in Abu Dhabi and driving on it can be likened to a combination of the Wacky Racers and Death Race 2000 – E. refuses to drive on it and we had to choose the location of our home by reference to whether it would be feasible to get the kids to school using the most convenient available alternative route.

The main problems are that (a) their are lots of (big and fast) cars; (b) a number of driver’s are quite prepared to overtake/undertake or tailgate at very high speeds; (c)some of the road users regard any suggestion of deference or caution in their driving style to be a stain on their honour to be avoided at all costs. You quite literally require eyes in the back of your head to make sure that all potential hazards are kept in sight.

I recall when I first arrived here being driven by a taxi in the outside lane and being overtaken on the outside (ie in the small gap between the edge of the outside lane and the metal central reservation barrier) by a motorbike doing at least 160KPH. I also remember standing a the side of SZR near the trade centre roundabout and watching a motorbike doing wheelies in the carriage way towards Abu Dhabi, weaving in and out of cars overtaking them. I would not say that this is par for the course, but it does give a flavour of the Dubai driving experience and explains why, despite its many and manifold problems driving in HK was a piece of cake by comparison!

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