Qatar event aims to cut traffic deaths

Qatar holds a week of traffic-awareness activities in a bid to reduce the number of road fatalities in the emirate.

DOHA, QATAR (MARCH 15, 2015) (REUTERS) – With a growing population and high numbers of vehicles on the roads, car crashes have become a feature of everyday life in Qatar – often with fatal results.

According to a study by the University of Washington, traffic accidents were one of the highest causes of premature death in the country in 2010.

But, by hosting the annual Gulf Traffic Week event in Doha, the government is hoping to raise awareness of road safety – and cut deaths.

That involves tackling some bad motoring habits.

“We have focused on wearing seat belts, since they were put in cars to protect the driver. We have also focused on not using mobile phones while driving because an accident can happen in a fraction of a second. We are also focusing on not overtaking other cars from the right and the dangers of this. The ministry of interior’s aim is not to collect traffic fines. Fines are in place to deter careless drivers,” said the interior ministry’s Lieutenant Abdul Wahid Gharib al-Enazi.

According to Qatar’s National Road Safety Strategy, around 220 people lose their lives and a further 550 are seriously injured in Qatar each year as a result of a road crash.

The high number of accidents has alarmed the local community, with several companies launching initiatives to tackle the issue.

One, set up by Qatar Shell, is called ‘Rakkiz Tislam’, or ‘Focus and Be Safe’.

The campaign, aimed at youths over the age of 12, invites youngsters to use driver learning software to help them identify and respond to unsafe traffic situations.

“For those over 12 years old, we have another programme, called Rakkiz Tislam. It lasts 20 minutes and includes 10 videos, or ten questions – each video asks a question and the questions are about concentrating while driving. All of these videos were shot on the streets of Doha and they simulate situations that young drivers might face on the streets of Doha,” said volunteer Mohamed Ossama.

The week-long event in Doha also used shock tactics, showing visitors the possible outcomes of a low speed car crash.

Despite laws in Qatar making it mandatory to wear a seat belt in the front seat of a vehicle, it’s a rule many ignore.

“It’s part of Arab culture that people here are a bit careless when it comes to seat belts. As much as we can, we try to educate them of the importance of the seat belt. There are international studies that show that seat belts protect can protect you from death in car accidents by up to 80 percent and by 65 percent against severe injury. Here most of the deaths are among youngsters, so we are trying to send a message to young people and adults alike on the importance of seat belts,” said the supervisor of awareness activities, Ali Khamis Dham al-Suwaidi.

The National Road Safety Strategy identified negligence as the highest contributory factor in fatal and serious crashes, with reckless driving and speeding also identified as important contributory factors.

The data collected for the strategy showed male drivers between the ages of 18 and 30 years being at a much higher risk of road death and injury than other drivers.

Visitor Khalid Mohamed Darwish said it was important to get the road safety message across early.

“You start with youngsters and they will learn. They will be more educated when they grow up. When the base is right, the awareness will happen. Once these children grow up, they will be aware of the importance of seat belts, speed and respecting traffic lights,” he said.

Qatar says its long-term aim is to cut the annual number of road crash fatalities in the country to 130 and reduce the number of serious injuries to 300 by 2022.