Wednesday

To drive or not to drive... just get in the car.

We waited for as long as we could to get a feel for the way the traffic flows, and sat in the front of taxi's to get our heads around the steering wheel being on the opposite side to where we were used to. Then we made other excuses: too hot, cold, early, late - finally we took the plunge.

It didn't hurt a bit.



I guess it depends on your own experiences how you respond to the fracas of driving here in Abu Dhabi. Coming from Australia though it was a very steep learning curve.

Particularly when we were used to minor road faux pas (like indicating a little late) that resulted in varying degrees of "interactions" between drivers. "Interactions" that ranged from passive aggression to outright tyre-lever-window-breaking-drag-people-out-of-the-car kind of aggression.

Here it at first feels like a free-for-all. Speed limits initially appear to be uniformly ignored or used only as a guide, threats of fines for illegal parking go mostly unheeded, and the indicator on a car is just an interesting flashing light that few are interested in finding the use of.

The trick, we were told, was to hire a car and head out on a Friday morning, because it's the most religious day of the week and nothing is open so people have far less reason to be out on the road going anywhere. Being the ever-vigilant researcher that I am, I was stunned on our first Friday in the country that this is very much the case.

I conducted my research by standing at the window of the hotel we were staying in and looking along the road in front of Abu Dhabi mall - - usually with a hot beverage in my hand.

For the first week I just couldn't believe that traffic could be so loud, and chaotic and yet still move at any great pace. We arrived on the Saturday, and the working week begins on Sunday here in the UAE so I got a good 6 days of pondering in before Friday's alleged contrast - initial impressions didn't leave me hopeful.

We got up late that first Friday, went for breakfast as usual. On my return I showered and furnished myself with a cup of coffee, and then strode up to my research post at the window.

Now I am not about to say that there were tumbleweeds blowing along the deserted 6 lane street, nor will I suggest that saloon doors were creaking on their hinges, or that a lone flamenco guitarist was playing on the stoop of the store across the road.

But there was DEFINITELY less traffic.. a whole lot less. Surprisingly less. Seriously less.

While we weren't yet brave enough to hire a car at that stage - it did give us hope.

Yes, hope. Hope that we could ease our way in to things. Get used to driving on the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road. Friday would be a GREAT day to hire a car.

I picked our first hire car up the following Tuesday. At peak hour.

Karma organised it (obviously), and with much trepidation I got in the little Toyota Corolla, and proceeded to sit for a while in the car park of the car-rental place. That the staff staring out through the large glass doors at the guy who had just hired one of their cars were at first a little amused. Then the pointing started, and the thought that one of them was going to come out to attend to me (and thus discover that I was indeed hopeless) spurred me on to starting the car, and driving off...

... and into the traffic, to pick up Karma from her workplace. A destination that for me at that time was completely in the "concept stage". In my home country, I can pretty much stand anywhere and point to the north. I just can. HERE though, in the wilds of Abu Dhabi, I am utterly at a loss. You could point at your feet and tell me that that was north and I'd have to believe you, because that would at least be definitive. I just don't have a clue.

SO, my internal compass being on the blink, combined with driving a car that had a steering wheel where I'm usually sitting as a passenger, in traffic that was like an angry animal, made for a VERY interesting first go at driving on Abu Dhabi's roads.

Karma has a knack for such things. As she got in the car I thanked her (through clenched teeth) for organising the car for such a time, she responded with here usual sweet smile and said "oops"... I gritted my teeth a little more and added "at least it's not a manual, that would be even more confusing" a week later Karma phoned up for the Van in the "Ikea adventure" (see post) ... guess what? Out of the 2 vans available - one automatic and one manual - GUESS which one she booked. I have always driven a manual - and by that stage it wasn't such a big deal. Nonetheless I am secretly suspicious that she did it on purpose.

The following are things that I think are a must when driving on Abu Dhabi's roads - please feel free to add to them in the comment section.

First and foremost, and this is not a negotiable thing: DO NOT, no matter how dangerous or reckless you think the other driver has behaved, DO NOT use any hand gestures that could be considered rude.

This is an offence, and a bad one. "Prison" bad. I know... it sounds ridiculous, but truly, keep your hands on the wheel. Suck it up, and move into the slow lane. Think about Puppies or kittens or whatever, but breathe through it, and don't retaliate.

Drive in the middle lane, the fast lane has issues with low flying BMW 7 series or massive American SUVs appearing out of nowhere, flashing lights and utilising their horns, the slow one has it's own quirks with cars turning into and out of them (no indication of course), or stopping, or driving slowly, or full of busses, road-workers, cleaners etc...The middle lane is fine.. stay in it as much as possible.

If you see a car that's indicating - it doesn't always mean it's going to turn.
If you see a car that isn't indicating - it doesn't mean it's NOT going to turn.
Being right is less important than being safe - be responsible for your own safety, and drive accordingly.
Don't let your own driving skills slip to the level that's often displayed here. Be courteous, and indicate and MAYBE we can get things changed by example, one expat at a time. (That's what I am clinging to anyway - it's rough being an optimist.)
There are alot more, feel free to add your own!

Don't let this post scare you away from driving here in Abu Dhabi - it's actually kind of fun, and don't take things to heart OR too seriously (apart from your safety) and everything will be fine. The reality is that EVERY capital city in the world has it's traffic quirks. Most can be attributed to local knowledge and as a result new drivers can feel a little overwhelmed.

If you make a mistake it'll be okay - you will get honked at here whether you are right, wrong, (or not even there on occasion) - but there is a difference in intent here. The horn is used more like a conversation thing rather than an aggressive one in most cases. Almost like a bat's sonar... "Honk - I'm over here", "Honk - no, over here" etc. etc.

When it comes to driving... jump on in with confidence, the water is fine.

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Andrew Webber is a writer, living in Abu Dhabi with his wife, two cats and two dogs.

His first book "Erasure" was published in June 2012 and was followed in 2013 by the Prequel to Erasure, "Broken".

In 2016 Erasure was a prize winner in the Montegrappa Writing Prize - part of the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature.

For more information click the "Erasure" book cover on the left side of this site, or simply go to www.athwebber.com

Thanks for visiting.