I write this post, partially in jest, but mostly to educate those who might be coming over. It’s one topic I remember reading about before getting here, and being terrified about. I have been a passenger for the last 10 months…not a joke. My husband has driven everywhere. He’s seemingly cool behind the wheel, actually having fun navigating the rules of the road here. Meanwhile, I gasp, say a few swear words, grab onto my seat and anything else, and just hope we get from point A to point B without incident.
However, I was recently forced to drive for two weeks last month while he was out of town. The first morning I did, I literally felt sick to my stomach and had panic surging through my veins. For the first few days, this is how it went. First, I promised I wouldn’t drive with my kids in the car until I got the hang of things. Second, I drove slow. Yep, I was the annoying one everyone passed up (well, it’s not that hard to get passed up here). Third, when I’d arrive at my destination, I’d only then realize how white and clinched my hands were on the wheel.
After my first week of driving in the UAE, here’s what I had learned thus far…
1. Don’t be in a hurry, it’s not worth it.
2. If you’re flashed by the car behind you, just get over…period.
3. Forget the rules of the road you learned elsewhere. The UAE has it’s own version of traffic rules, which can be summarized as “Buckly up, grab the ‘oh s*** handle, and pray!”
4. You could assume that at a roundabout, the inner lane if for turning left, the center lane is for going straight, and the outside lane is for turning right…but that would just be silly. Use your blinker, keep your eyes open, and follow the traffic flow the best you can.
5. An O.J. type high-speed chase causing alarm? Nope, everyone drives like that here. You will be zoomed past quite often…please don’t try to keep up!
6. Make sure your car can accelerate quickly…you’ll need it, especially in a roundabout.
7. Learn the name of every roundabout, your directions will revolve around them. But just make sure you’re talking about the same roundabout. 🙂
8. Pay attention to hotels, buildings, and the name of the little cafeteria by the clock next to the post office and kiddie corner from the Islamic bank…yep, if there’s no roundabout, you’re directions will depend on these landmarks.
9. Yellow lights don’t really mean slow down.
10. Don’t be surprised if the road you thought you were on has a different name the next time you look at a sign.
11. You’ll be honked at no matter what. Follow the rules, don’t follow the rules, just get used to being honked at.
12. Humps ahead does not mean camel crossing, it means speed bumps which can launch your car if going too fast. These things can be BIG!
13. The speed limit posted is not the speed limit. You can actually go 20 over.
14. The police emergency number and ambulance number is 999, but good luck trying to tell them where you are!
15. Anyone in a Land Cruiser, Patrol, Lexus or Armada with tinted windows has the right of way. Period!
16. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance, no ifs ands or buts.
17. Making a right hand turn on a red light is ILLEGAL!
However, on a serious note, driving here is NOT like home. You do have to be careful and watch out at all times. According to The Bureau of Consular Affairs, “Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in the UAE. According to the World Health Organization, the UAE has the highest rate of road fatalities in the Middle East and one of the highest rates in the world. Drivers often drive at high speeds. Unsafe driving practices are common, especially on inter-city highways. On highways, unmarked speed bumps and drifting sand create additional hazards. Pedestrians should also use great care on the roads of the UAE –over 25 percent of road fatalities are pedestrians.”
I believe that a lot of the issues with driving here have to do with a country that is 80% or more expatriate, meaning everyone is coming from a different schooling of driving and rules. To get my license here, I did not have to take a driving test…just turned over my license and learned the “rules” of the road on my own through oberservation and eventually, driving. I know some other countries are required to take a driving test upon getting their license here, but only a few. So, it’s no wonder that driving here is a little crazy and unexpected at times.
There’s also question as to what the actual rules are for children in cars here. You might see them in the back seat on laps, or in the front seat on laps. But it is my understanding that a law was recently passed, like days ago, enforcing the use of carseats based on height and weight which is just wonderful! There’s also a fabulous non-profit awareness campaign in Dubai called Buckle Up in the Back Dubai. They are trying to bring awareness to the importance of keeping our children safe on the roads.
Overall, I will say, it has actually been a lot of fun driving here. I can only hope that driving here will prepare me to drive anywhere in the World, and hopefully as a safer driver.
Buckle Up, Drive Safe!