Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the UAE, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the United Arab Emirates is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The police emergency number and ambulance number is 999. Mobile phones are widely used throughout the UAE, so passers-by will usually request emergency police and medical services quickly if they see that you need help. Response time by emergency services is adequate. However, medical personnel emphasize transport of the injured to the hospital rather than treatment on site.
Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in the UAE. According to the World Health Organization, the UAE has the highest rate of road fatalities in the Middle East and one of the highest rates in the world. Drivers often drive at high speeds. Unsafe driving practices are common, especially on inter-city highways. On highways, unmarked speed bumps and drifting sand create additional hazards. Pedestrians should also use great care on the roads of the UAE –over 25 percent of road fatalities are pedestrians.
Country-wide traffic laws impose stringent penalties for certain violations, particularly driving under the influence of alcohol. In the UAE, there is zero tolerance for driving after consumption of alcohol. Persons arrested for drinking and driving are often jailed for many days as they await a court hearing. Penalties may include hefty jail sentences, fines, and, for Muslims (even those holding U.S. citizenship), lashings. Persons involved in an accident in which another party is injured automatically go to jail until the injured person is released from the hospital. Should a person die in a traffic accident, the driver of the other vehicle is liable for payment of compensation for the death (known as "dhiyya"), usually the equivalent of 55,000 U.S. dollars. Even relatively minor accidents may result in lengthy proceedings, during which both drivers may be prohibited from leaving the country.
In order to drive, UAE residents must obtain a UAE driver's license. Foreign driver's licenses are generally not recognized. However, U.S. citizen visitors who are not UAE residents can drive using a valid driver’s license issued by his or her state. An international driver’s license may be required in some emirates. The UAE recognizes driver's licenses issued by other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states only if the bearer is driving a vehicle registered to the same GCC state. Under no circumstances should anyone drive without a valid license.
If you are in an accident, UAE law mandates that you remain at the scene until authorities arrive. The use of front seat belts is mandatory in the UAE and a new law mandating the use of child seats is under consideration with the Ministry of the Interior. Driving is on the right side of the road. Speed limits are posted. Making a right turn on a red light is not permitted unless there is a special lane to do so with a yield sign. Parking is not allowed where the curb is painted black and yellow. Digital cameras are used extensively on Emirati roads for registering traffic violations, including speeding. Fines can be substantial. Passengers with outstanding traffic fines may be detained at airport immigration.
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