CHANGING THE DRIVING CULTURE

December 28, 2013 - 2:16:08 am

The Traffic Department is doing enough to prevent road accidents that are one of the major causes of deaths and critical injuries in the country, but it isn’t getting any support from society at large to promote a culture of road safety, says a prominent Qatari sociologist.

 

“When parents are breaking the law by giving away cars to their under-age sons who don’t even possess a driving licence, how can you expect the youngsters to drive responsibly and respect traffic rules,” argues Dr Munira Al Rumaihi.

Munira, who teaches sociology at Qatar University, said: “I have words of praise for traffic authorities. They are doing enough to prevent mishaps… The question is: Are they getting the kind of support they need from society at large? I would say no, they aren’t,” she said.

Families alone should be blamed for reckless and daredevil driving by youngsters and dangerous stunts and racing they indulge in as part of what are games of bet and chivalry.

“Parents themselves are breaking the law and helping their sons break the law. They should be responsible,” said Al Rumaihi.

Ironically, though, in the end it is the family that suffers if a younger member dies or sustains serious injuries in a car crash, she said.

“I know at least three families which lost a young son each — in car and motorcycle accidents,” Al Rumaihi said in remarks to a local Arabic daily.

She said it was not that youngsters indulging in daredevil driving and dangerous racing games were not aware of where radars are or that they should stop at the red light but they don’t care.

Well-known Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Al Buainain, said for him it is always a scary sight early mornings when groups of youngsters don’t bother, put their lives at stake and indulge in racing competitions.

“They jump the red light and in these races they risk their lives but they think what they are doing is enjoyable,” Al Buainain told the Arabic daily.

Experts rue that the department doesn’t give separate figures for deaths and critical injuries in car crashes that result from daredevil driving and dangerous stunts by young motorists, many of whom under 19 and do not have driving licence.

This makes it difficult for analysts to differentiate between road accidents caused by ordinary motorists and stunt drivers, said an expert requesting anonymity.

Figures released by the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics show that in 2012, a little more than 5,000 accidents took place, up 10 percent over the previous year. A total of 204 people died, with more than a third (35.3 percent) being motorists. 

More than three-fourths (67.5 percent) of the deceased were in the age group 18-35.

“That shows more young people died and, surely, many of them must have died during dangerous stunts, racing and showmanship,” said the expert.

At least 10 percent, or about 500, of the accidents last year led to critical injuries, some of which might have, understandably, left people incapacitated.

The death toll in accidents accounted for a high 17.2 percent of total deaths in that year. “It’s a huge ratio,” said the expert.

The Ministry of Interior launched a National Strategy for Road Safety (2013-2022) early last January and one of its main aims is to help reduce the death toll and injuries.

The ministry, citing figures, says the ratio of deaths in car crashes to total deaths is to be reduced.

There are signs of some success eventually coming its way. The toll in 2012, for instance, according to the ministry, was much less, at 204, compared to the years when the new traffic law that imposes deterring fines on serious violations like jumping the red light, was not introduced.

The toll in 2006, for example — before the new legislation took effect — was 270, whereas the population and the number of vehicles on roads and motorists might have been half compared to today, suggested the ministry.

The population has nearly trebled since 2004 — from an estimated 750,000 then to over two million now. So has multiplied the number of vehicles and motorists.

On average, some 90,000 new cars are coming on roads every year and slightly more than a 100,000 driving licences are issued.

“The situation is challenging for traffic authorities,” said the expert. One key segment of people who the department needs to target for road safety awareness is low-income workers as many of them meet with accidents while crossing roads. 

Last year, according to official figures, 27.4 percent, or more than 55 people who died, were pedestrians.

The ratio has, though, been on a decline as 2011 statistics reflect that more pedestrians had died on roads than in 2012.

“There are improvements, but more needs to be done to have a fairly acceptable, if not ideal, road safety environment in the country,” the expert said.

The Peninsula

 

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