Saturday, 19 October 2013

Driving in the UAE

Last week was a two day week thanks to Eid Al Adha. Private sector employees were given three days off, whereas Government sector workers were given five days, making a nice nine day stretch if you include the weekends at either end.

The weather is cooling down slightly, so we took advantage of the break to get out and do a few things, including a desert safari, a walk around the Grand Prix track, go karting on the Corniche, and our first Friday Brunch (a subject for a future blog entry).

Dune Bashing

The highlight was the desert safari when we spent the afternoon and evening being driven up and down sand dunes (as good as any roller coaster), riding camels, and sand boarding (which Archie demonstrated a talent for). There was also a BBQ, belly dancing (which we didn't partake in), and shisha smoking (which I did, because you have to do these things once). The evening ended with the lights in the camp being turned off for ten minutes so we could lie on our backs and look at the stars in total darkness.

We were only really on the edge of the desert, but we enjoyed ourselves so much that I have moved camping in the desert to the top of our Bucket List for the rest of this year.

Go Karting on The Corniche

Alongside enjoying ourselves progress continues slowly with getting visas, etc sorted out for the whole family (including me, given that I lost my wallet a couple of weeks ago, containing the collection of ID cards, driving license, etc that it had taken me a month to accumulate!).

Jo's visa should arrive this week, which means she will finally be able to get a UAE driving license, and drive the car that we bought a month ago.

The rules about driving here are unclear to say the least. From reading certain Government websites it appears that if you have a UK license you can drive a rental car, but only until the point that you apply for your residency visa, when you must stop driving until you have received your visa and then your UAE driving license.

This would be a real pain for Jo given that until Flossie moved school just before half term, the afternoon school run involved a 15 mile dash across Abu Dhabi.

However, other websites suggest the rules are open to a different interpretation, meaning Jo would be able to continue driving a hire car. This is the route that we chose to take. Jo did try to get definitive confirmation one way or the other, including a visit to Khalifa A Police Station, where she asked a succession of officers to clarify the position, until she got the answer she wanted!

Abu Dhabi Skyline
Driving here is a lottery most of the time. Everybody is in a hurry to get wherever they are going which means that normal rules of the road are often forgotten. You have to be constantly alert to what is going on all around you, because undertaking is common, often using the hard shoulder (or rough ground if there is no hard shoulder), or worse, squeezing through between the fast lane and the central reservation, where no lane actually exists.

New roads are being built all the time, meaning that a route you have been used to using can change overnight. And it doesn't help that some roads have at least two different names. Signs for motorway junctions often don't appear until you are pretty much on top of the junction, so it is also common for cars to swerve across five lanes of traffic to get where they want to go.

The authorities are trying to clamp down on speeding, and think nothing of putting speed bumps on three lane roads. The road I use to get to the motorway every morning has at least ten in a stretch of a couple of miles, which makes for a very frustrating first part of the journey.

New bumps can appear without warning. Indeed last week two appeared almost overnight on a road I use regularly. If you don't watch out you can do your car some serious damage!

We have very quickly got used to some practices that we wouldn't dream of doing back in the UK. For example, the majority of motorists (us included) leave their engines running whilst they fill up with petrol. When I say "they fill up", I mean the attendant fills the car up whilst the driver sits in the air conditioned cool of his or her car, winding the window down just briefly to thrust a 100 dirham note out as payment.

All of the above doesn't mean that you can get away with driving how you like. The Abu Dhabi Police website lists 147 offenses for which you can be given a fine and /or a number of "black points", including three points for "overtaking in a wrong way"; "abuse of a parking place" (poor parking place!); "opening the left door of a taxi" (why doesn't the left door want to be opened!?); or "using your horn in a disturbing way" (the mind boggles).

Apparently you get a text message each time you commit an offense (none of those so far, touch wood), and at the end of the year when you go to renew your license you must settle your accumulated fines, and take any other penalties. Allegedly at this point, if you break down in tears, it is likely the fine will be reduced. I will have to try this if it comes to it!

The system makes for some interesting stories. A case was reported in July where a woman had committed 1,551 offenses over a period of four years, accumulating fines of approaching £200,000.

I have probably rattled on for long enough, so I shall let you get back to whatever you were doing. As always thanks for reading.



Unknown said...

Great post as always Pete! I guess fuel is as cheap as chips? Probably cheaper!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant reading Pete - love your style! We thought Canberra drivers were bad but perhaps not compared to UAE! Just take care on those roads!!! Love cal xxx

Unknown said...

Very interesting, seems as though there are lots of rules but few follow them! Thanks for that, Love Dad and Mum

Charles said...
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