Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desert Notes: More Road Surprises

Last week I introduced you to some of the more, um, surprising aspects of driving in Abu Dhabi. But you are still not ready to tackle the roads! There are a couple more essential things you need to know….

Hand Signs
Every country has some standard hand signals for turning, stopping etc. There are also numerous hand signs for communicating to other drivers. These generally involve one or two fingers pointed in a very specific manner, and are often accompanied by words better left to the Daily Smoke.

These hand signs are not advisable to use in Abu Dhabi. Urban legend has it that using obscene hand gestures could land you with a hefty fine or a visit to one of those lovely state owned facilities with the barred windows.

There is one hand sign that is extremely common in Abu Dhabi. All you need to do is extend your hand (either will do, though right is probably preferable) palm facing upward. Then bring all your fingertips together and wave your hand around in small circles.
This is not rude. It simply means wait. And wait is what you’ll probably have to do if you are ever in an accident.

Car insurance is absolutely essential in the UAE. Not because it is likely to get stolen. In fact, when our family went home to SA last year, we left the car parked in our drive behind a gate which doesn’t lock, and a fence which is not electrified. It was still there when we got home a month later. It was particularly amazing since we had accidentally left the car unlocked too.

No, your insurance is not for theft. It is primarily for accidents. As I mentioned last week, the UAE has one of the highest accident rates in the world. The insurance covers the normal panelbeating and whatnot, but it also covers what is known locally as “blood money.” You see, if you kill or injure someone in an accident, you are liable to pay damages to the person’s family, the value of which is determined by them. Some will waive the damages. Others will not. If you don’t have insurance, or can’t pay, you go to jail, until the family or the court decides you have paid your penalty.

Drinking and Driving
There is one simple drink-drive rule here. Don’t. Ever. At all. If you get caught, you go to jail. Even if its only one little drink. And if you have any alcohol in your system at the time of any accident, your insurance will not pay out. Doesn’t even matter if it was your fault. If you were drinking alcohol, then that’s it. No arguments. Jail for you.

Some would then consider taking a taxi if they get inebriated. If you don’t smell of alcohol and don’t appear drunk, you’re fine. However, if you are tipsy, sloshed or plastered, your taxi driver will probably just drive you to the nearest police station where you will be arrested for public drunkenness.

It’s simple. Drink at home if you must. And don’t drive anywhere. Or if you plan on going out and having a drink, make sure you have a sober friend to drive you home.

The hooter on your car is a very essential piece of equipment, and can be used in a variety of ways. If you are thirsty or need a snack, or need to pick up some bread and milk, stop outside your corner grocery (equivalent of a tiny corner café) and hoot. Someone will run out, take your order, run back in, fetch it and collect your money. This can take a while.

Which is where the second use of the hooter is valuable: for hooting at just about anything that is not going as fast as you are. You will probably be rewarded with the “wait” hand sign from the car to which your hooting was aimed.

Another key use is to alert someone that they are about to sideswipe you as they zoom across three lanes of traffic without indicating and turn directly in front of you. You will get a LOT of practice at this particular hooting technique.

Parking in Abu Dhabi is also a very technical skill. The first thing to consider is parking lots at shopping centres. There is always adequate parking fortunately, but it appears that the more expensive your car is, the more parking lots you are required to occupy. For example, your standard 4 x 4 will need at least two bays, and the driver will park deliberately on top of the line separating the two bays. A Ferrari on the other hand, will probably prefer to park diagonally across three bays.

The reason for this is simple. If other drivers can’t park near you, they cannot bash your car. Because as I mentioned in the previous article, you cannot move your car if its been in an accident until the police arrive. Even if its just a bumper bashing. Without the police report written on scene, your insurance will not pay out.

This stretched out parking in shopping centres does not exist in the city centre. Mostly because parking facilities are not sufficient. So here the key is to park as many cars into as small a space as possible. Which means you will get cars on the pavement, next to the pavement, on the white line in the middle of the road (seriously) and on the other side of the road, and on the pavement there too. And it wont necessarily be in any kind of orderly fashion either. It will be as higgedly piggedly as you can imagine. Which means if you arrived early, and found a good spot, you will probably have to have mental images of the “wait” hand sign when you come out while you figure out how to maneuver out of the spot someone else has parked you into.

One last thing. Don’t hit a camel while driving. While they are not common in the cities, they are on the long roads between towns. And blood money is also payable for the death of a camel. And rumour has it that some of these highly pedigreed, highly revered beasts, can be valued at far more than you think.

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