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Dubai: Reckless in Reverse

September 9th, 2012 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Dubai, The National, UAE

Perhaps the craziest part of this story is … I know how it could happen.

It is astonishing, on its face.

The Dubai police write around 2,000 traffic tickets per month for “reckless backwards driving,” as noted in this story in The National.

And, yes, that’s fairly nutty. About 70 tickets a day for people driving in reverse gear.

But let me explain the inexplicable.

This is a country where it is almost always difficult to turn around.


In Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, it’s about really long blocks with no breaks in the median, which generally is a raised area and fenced on both sides.

If you miss your turn, your best bet is to continue on to the next signal, which could be a mile away, perhaps in heavy traffic, and pull a U-turn and come back to your street.

Dubai, the UAE’s biggest city, is worse. Far worse. The city is a driver’s nightmare, a vehicular dystopia of curving/flying/circling/tunneling roads that often leave even long-time residents exasperated.

There is no grid in Dubai. None. I think I previously have described the roadmap of Dubai as looking like a plate of spaghetti.

Dubai has one enormous freeway running through the center of it, but offramps are limited, and if you exit at an offramp with which you are not familiar, you are likely to be presented with a bewildering welter of choices in this, that and the other direction, many of them arcing up and over other streets, going … God knows where. And this is how even residents would see it. (Many know how to get to their own apartment, and that’s it. The rest of the city’s roads are a mystery even to the people who live there.)

So, let’s say you’re on the big freeway, and you can’t quite get over for your exit in time.  You were distracted, and didn’t make it over the six lanes to take the exit.

Your choices are …

1. To go to the next exit, and hope you can figure out a way to get over (or under) the freeway and find an on ramp — which is nigh on impossible, if you don’t know your way around that specific neighborhood …

2. Or to back up far enough to get off on the offramp you intended to take.

I have been sorely tempted to do this, while traveling in Dubai. I realize at the last moment that I have taken the wrong fork on the flyover and consider a last-second drive across no man’s land …  or stopping dead on the shoulder and waiting for a good moment to back up far enough to get to where I wanted to go.

That may sound crazy, but remember this: The standing joke in Dubai, when asked to give directions on getting to Abu Dhabi is “Go to Sharjah and turn around.”

The humor comes from Sharjah’s location being the opposite direction from Abu Dhabi, and is an admission that it is bloody difficult to find an onramp in the correct direction — until you’ve left Dubai entirely.

So, yeah, 2,000 tickets a month for driving in reverse? I get it.

And the final bit of head-shaking reality of this is the Dubai cops saying (deep in the story) that all the cameras that catch people speeding are no use in people driving in reverse.

Writing a ticket for “reckless backwards driving” requires a cop on the spot. Could be tens of thousands of wrong-way drivers in Dubai who are not getting caught.


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