Driven to Distraction 2

December 29, 1993
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Most (i.e. about 90%) of the vehicles on the road here are late models in very good condition.  You never see an “old beater,” they're not allowed.

Every second or third car is a Mercedes or BMW, and there are tons of four-wheel drives (Range Rovers, Nissan Patrols, etc,).  We also see a smattering of Audis, Legends, and assorted sport cars.

This weekend in Sharjah we parked next to a Ferrari Testosterone - oops, I mean Testarossa.

Clean as a Whistle

Some people say you can get fined for having a dirty car in Abu Dhabi.  Don't know if that's true or not, but I do know there are car washers everywhere, especially in the evenings.  If your car looks a little dusty when you pull into a parking lot, they rush over and ask if you want it washed.  The cost is Dh 10 or a little over $3 Canadian.

We avail ourselves of the services of one of the freelance washers who works out of our apartment complex parking lot (there are three or four of them, car washers I mean).  They charge Dh 100 a month for a wash a day (volume discount).  Every now and then they do the inside of the car as well.  It's a dream come true for Bobby who is a clean car fanatic.

Fines for Infractions

Hardly anyone drives the speed limit, which is supposedly monitored by radar and fixed versions of the multinova camera.  Bobby says the cameras take pictures of vehicles as they, or more accurately, their drivers, commit traffic violations such as speeding and running red lights.

Then, when you go to renew your driver's licence or registration - which expire yearly - a list of the violations is produced.  Apparently the fines must be paid before the licence or registration is renewed.  If it's true, it means thousands of dirhams over the counter at the traffic department everyday, as violations are more the norm than the exception.

People regularly drive down the white line, thereby using two of the usual three lanes on the main roads.  And making left hand turns from a lane other than the turning lane is as common as weaving through heavy traffic at high speeds.  It gives the term defensive driving a whole new meaning...

(But it sure is a lot safer being a driver than a pedestrian.  Crossing the road on foot is when you really take your life into your hands.) 

The alternative (at least as dangerous if not more so), to driving yourself around town is to have someone else drive you – the privilege for which hundreds, sometimes it seems like thousands, of expatriate cabbies from mostly Pakistan vie from dawn to dusk and vice versa every day.


You don't have to call taxis in Abu Dhabi.  In fact you don't even hail taxis here.  They hail you.  As you're coming out of a building, walking down the street, or standing on the corner, taxi drivers honk their horns or flash their headlights in anticipation of your need for a ride.

And they're everywhere.  Especially during the daylight hours.  One afternoon when we were stopped at a red light downtown we counted 15 taxis in the three lanes of traffic ahead of us.

We didn't have time to count the others beside and behind us.  Ours was one of only a few privately owned vehicles in a sea of tri-colour (white, khaki and green) cabs awaiting the signal change.  It's like that at every intersection.  All of the cabs are compacts, most in relatively reasonable condition.

Not surprisingly, the fares are amazingly cheap.  A cross-town ride of 30 minutes costs CND $6 tops.  Zipping downtown from where we are is about 5 dirhams (less than CND $2).  And the drivers don't expect a tip, though they won't refuse one when offered.

On the Road Nowhere

For navigational purposes the city is divided into two "zones," which are divided into numbered sectors, which are further sub-divided into numbered streets (not streets and avenues, streets only).

There are nice blue and white signs at most intersections – they identify the zone, sector and street.  No doubt some consultant made millions selling Abu Dhabi this system, but money that may as well have been cast into the wind: the system is absolutely useless, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Until you've been here for at least a month or two it's virtually impossible to find your way around.  And even then it’s a challenge. I’ll tell you why next time…