- Special Pages
BY MOHAMMAD SHOEB
DOHA: With about 90,000 new vehicles and more than 100,000 new drivers coming on Qatar’s roads every year, the country is facing a monumental task in preventing traffic accidents and ensuring the safety of road users.
The 29th Gulf Traffic Week has once again brought this issue into focus with its central theme: “Your safety is our goal.”
The week-long campaign-cum-exhibition has evoked an overwhelming response from the public, with the activities slated to conclude today.
“The campaign was very successful. We received a great response from visitors, including schoolchildren. Over 10,000 men, women and children, including 7,000 students from various schools, visited the event every day, and we are expecting another 20,000 visitors over the next two days,” an official from the Ministry of Interior (MoI) told The Peninsula last Thursday.
GCC Traffic Week, which has been taking place for the past 29 years in all the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, aims to educate people, especially children, about traffic rules and road safety. Delegates representing the traffic departments of the member countries share vital information to improve road safety and reduce road accidents.
Nearly 90 public and private entities, according to the organisers, are participating in this year’s event. They include Lekhwiya’s Search and Operation Department, the Traffic Department, MoI’s Medical Service Department, dealers in Toyota and Nissan vehicles, and driving schools, all of whom have stalls to provide tips on safe driving and road safety.
Qatar, of late, has witnessed a huge influx of foreign workers as projects related to the 2022 football World Cup begin. This has caused a massive rise in the number of new vehicles hitting the roads every year. According to the latest statistics released by the Traffic Department, more than 88,000 new vehicles hit the roads in 2012, while the number of new driver’s licences issued during the year totalled 108,000. The number of new vehicles registered in 2011 was 70,000 while about 105,000 driver’s licences were issued in 2011.
However, a nationwide awareness campaign being waged by the Traffic Department in collaboration with several private and public entities, combined with stringent traffic rules, has resulted in a gradual fall in the number of accidents and casualties, says the Department.
Despite a surge in the number of new vehicles in 2012, the death toll from traffic accidents was restricted to 204. According to the latest figures, the number of traffic accidents dropped 9.5 percent in 2012 as compared to 2011. And the number of pedestrians who died in road mishaps dropped last year to 56 from 61 in 2011 and a high of 74 in 2010.
“The ongoing traffic awareness campaign, coupled with stiff penalties for speeding, rash driving and signal jumping, has brought positive results in reversing the upward trend in the number of road accidents and casualties. We have been going to schools, universities and community events such as iftar parties to educate people about the significance of following traffic rules and safety measures,” said the official.
The Gulf states, including Qatar, with large numbers of expatriate workers who are accustomed to different driving styles and norms, are struggling to raise awareness about traffic safety among people through different means.
This year’s Gulf Traffic Week in Qatar, taking advantage of the pleasant weather, has been organised outdoors at the Darb Al Sai ground near Sports Roundabout, in front of Windham Grand Regency.
The six-day event, organised by the MoI, was inaugurated by Staff Major General Saad bin Jassim Al Khulaifi, Director General of Public Security.
“Today, we celebrate the 29th Gulf Traffic Week embodying the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation among the GCC countries in the face of common concerns and challenges to establish rules and etiquette of traffic and spread traffic awareness through public participation,” the director said on the opening day of the event.
Apart from traffic awareness activities, the event includes a wide range of recreational activities for children, besides parades by a police music band and units of police canines, cavalry and camels.
Visitors can enjoy artistic performances in the Kids Theater and free food, including traditional Qatari dishes such as makhboos, haris and sarid, served inside beautifully decorated tents.
The government is trying to engage public and private organisations and get cooperation from other GCC countries in finding the best solutions to traffic issues.
Many people become victims of others’ mistakes on the road. Some drivers, overconfident about their driving skills, often engage in other activities behind the wheel, such as texting, at the cost of others’ lives. Speeding and reckless driving, particularly by young men, are usually the causes of accidents.
“Some impatient drivers in their big sport utility vehicles often commit traffic violations such as not giving way to their fellow road users in sedan cars, even if they have priority on the roads. Some honk from behind to make others realise their mistakes, and at times put undue pressure on other drivers to get ahead, even if there is no room for manoeuvre. The traffic department has no way to register such violations, which may sound small but are often the cause of big accidents,” said Barkatullah, an Indian with more than 15 years of driving experience in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
During the event, Talib Afifa, a victim of a traffic accident, presented a poem about the tragedies faced by those who ignore traffic rules and etiquette.
Students also visited the Ministry of Interior’s tent and pavilions of the participating companies, and learnt about the services provided by MoI departments to the public. They also participated in a quiz contest on traffic safety in which the winners were given prizes.
A traffic village for kids is a major attraction of the 29th GCC Traffic Week. It replicates a small village with traffic signs, signals, small cars and bikes that conform to safety and security requirements.
The traffic village is equipped with large screens that show films on traffic safety. In addition, there are toy vehicles on which children can take part in races.
The village aims at creating awareness among children about public safety in an entertaining way. It provides them knowledge and training to avoid accidents resulting from reckless driving.
In addition to awareness campaigns, the government is considering other measures, including use of advanced technology, to reduce accidents.
There are plans to install more speed radars on highways. Once the initiative is implemented, the distance between two radars will be reduced to two kilometres from the current four kilometres.
A large number of road casualties involve pedestrians. Pedestrians, in the absence of pedestrian bridges or subways, sometimes cross roads when traffic is in full flow. They often fail to correctly judge the speed of cars while crossing roads, and fall victim to accidents. Some 27.4 percent of the victims of road accidents in 2012 were pedestrians.
According to media reports, the Traffic Department is coordinating with the Public Works Authority (Ashghal) to build pedestrian bridges and subways for pedestrian crossings.
In addition, the Traffic Department has formulated a strategy for 2011 to 2016, which aims to reduce the number of serious traffic accidents from 300 to 250 per 100,000 people by the year 2016.
Qatar has set up a National Traffic Safety Committee that is working to improve traffic safety on roads, use the latest traffic systems and raise awareness about traffic issues among citizens and expatriates.
The Committee will recommend legislation for roads, transportation and road engineering plans, carry out research and studies, and improve medical rescue services.
According to an expert at the Traffic Department, not using seat belts, distraction due to use of mobile phones or other devices, balloon tires and speeding are the four major causes of accidents in Qatar. When some of these factors are combined, it can lead to major accidents.