We have the pleasure of introducing Helen McClure tweeting @expatexplorers as our guest blogger this week. Here, Helen talks about driving etiquette in the UAE.
Forever going in circles – how do you drive in the UAE?
Camel sign – take care with other road users
Over a glass of wine, Dubai expats enjoy discussing the finer points of driving etiquette, as much as the Brits enjoy discussing the weather. Traffic jams, poor road layouts, accidents and pile-ups. It is little wonder that the habits of some can leave a lot to be desired. In general, there are two main issues: the road layout and the quality of driving.
Pothole – when sand subsides and the road collapses you get a shortcut to Australia
Dubai has grown faster than almost any other part of the planet. Road networks have been laid overnight and in this jungle of tarmac it is easy for people to get lost. Your satnav will not save you either. It will be outdated before you’ve even had the chance to plug it in, and the bossy lady (or man) will forever be telling you to “turn round when possible” as they assume you are driving across a sand dune, when all you can see is pristine asphalt.
Instead you will learn to navigate by landmark. The UAE used to be part of the Trucial States, administered by the British, and so roundabouts are a part of this legacy. These concrete halos are often adorned with creative sculptures such as a pearl and oyster, a lantern, a clock tower, and more bizarrely, a fish.
Fish roundabout – at least you’ll remember where you are
And don’t rely on street names! You may be looking for street 17b, but there will be several streets of the same name, and it might even be better known as the “street with the small mosque on the corner”. Even when you do find a street name, it might have two names; an official name and a nickname, or a historical one and a new one. You can also forget about the ambiguity created by the different spellings caused by translating names from Arabic.
For some, the biggest challenge is learning to drive on the right. Once this has been mastered you may find that the 12-lane highway is your biggest fear. Fifty years ago Dubai had fewer than fifty cars. Today there are more than 1 million, including more than 17,000 taxis. The roads are clogged with minibuses, taxis, supercars and 4x4s making the driving experience a test of nerves and patience.
Highway – plan your exit strategy
Although the Road and Transport Authority issues highway guidelines, it is evident that not many people have read them. Don’t be surprised if someone sits in your blindspot, cuts you up leaving paint on your bonnet so he can reach his exit, or undertakes you at high speed. Drivers are generally only thinking of one thing – their destination.
If you see a car weaving around, it is unlikely to be a drunk driver, given the rules on alcohol here. Despite it being illegal, he is probably texting. But it may be hard to see as most windows are blacked out to give better protection from the sun.
Dubai is a melting pot of cultures and therefore there is a mix of driving styles. Just remember three things:
1. Road signs don’t necessarily tell you where you are going. It is fairly common for roads to be closed or even moved.
2. Take your time. If you miss your exit, which you will do on a frequent basis, just accept you are going to be at least half an hour late as you hunt for a turn off that will allow you to change direction.
3. When asking for directions to the building opposite, you may receive the answer “left, second right, third right, first left”. If this sounds normal you have been here too long.
Helen McClure is a journalist, and a freelance public relations and marketing consultant, who has a passion for international travel, history and photography. She runs Expat Explorers, a travel and expat website offering independent insights, ideas and inspiration.