UAE : Tighter Rules Proposed for Young Drivers


Tighter rules proposed for young drivers

DUBAI - NOV 01: A nationwide system requiring young drivers to start with a provisional licence and work their way up to full driving privileges has been proposed by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

Drivers aged 18 to 24 would improve their skills and get into fewer accidents under the system, said Ali al Jasim, the director of the RTA licensing department.

“Restrictions are more important than deciding what age they should be allowed to drive,” Mr al Jasim said.

Under a provisional licence, young drivers would not be allowed to have high-powered cars and would be banned from motorways. They would also be required to have a qualified, experienced driver beside them at all times.

Only after gaining a certain amount of experience would they be allowed to sit for a final test to gain a full driving licence. “We have studied these initiatives and we have recommended them to the relevant authorities,” Mr al Jasim said.

“It is a matter of unifying it across the roads. We are discussing with the police across the country.”

The proposal also calls for follow-up testing to ensure that newly licensed drivers are meeting certain standards. Such a programme, coupled with stronger enforcement on the streets, would improve driving in the Emirates, Mr al Jasim said.

“Once a person gets the driving licence, he is a different person,” he said. “You need a post-licensing programme to make sure he behaves properly and according to the rules and regulations.”

The US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says a graduated licensing system such as the one proposed by the RTA can help young drivers mature more quickly. Similar systems are used in New Zealand and parts of Australia, the US and Canada. Some US states have a three-stage system.

In the first stage, young drivers receive a provisional licence and cannot drive unless they are accompanied by a licensed adult.

After passing the first test, they receive an intermediate licence that grants limited driving privileges. They cannot drive in high-risk situations, such as on motorways or at night, without supervision.

A licence with full privileges is issued only after they have progressed through the first two phases. Even then, during the first six to 12 months, there are restrictions on unsupervised night driving.

And if young drivers break any rules, their licence can be suspended.

Major Gen Mohammed al Zafein, the director of the Dubai Police traffic department, suggested last week that the minimum age for obtaining a licence should be lowered from 18 to 16, but only after a driver has received at least 100 hours of practical training.

Currently, drivers must be at least 18 to obtain a licence, but training and testing requirements vary across the emirates.

Gen al Zafein said the change would help solve the problem of untrained, underage teenagers getting behind the wheel illegally.

But Mr al Jasim said the focus should be on those who had already obtained their licence. A lower age limit would only work if the laws were heavily enforced, he said.

“We do not want to open files for people who are 16 years old without having restrictions on the streets and programmes starting in the home and educational institutions.”

He said young drivers should be made aware of the consequences of driving from an early age.

“It should start with their parents,” Mr al Jasim suggested.

Several countries allow 16-year-olds to drive, but the laws would need to be heavily enforced if the UAE were to allow driving at that age.

“The lower you go [in age], the more enforcement there should be,” he said.

Meanwhile, the RTA licensing department will soon begin new measures for issuing licences. Motorists will have to sit for a new theory test before they take practical lessons. The move, which will bring the test in line with several European countries, will be the first of its kind in the region.

Currently, the RTA requires at least 20 hours of practical lessons with a simple theory test before people begin to drive.

The new theory test is expected to be in place during the first half of 2010, Mr al Jasim said.

Plane crash highlights Twitter as town crier


Albert Dias, an employee with a travel company, broke the news of the plane crash in Sharjah on Twitter. Charles Crowell for The National

SHARJAH - NOV. 01: A Twitter-enabled mobile phone in hand and a cargo plane crashing in front of him, Albert Dias suddenly had a taste of what it was like to be a newsman.

An employee with a travel company close to Sharjah International Airport, Mr Dias and his colleagues are avid skywatchers.

Although he had seen a few planes wobble during take-off, they always righted themselves and flew on without incident.

October 21 was different. After a late lunch, he and his workmates thought nothing of the Sudanese cargo aircraft lifting off in the distance.

Then, when it had reached a height of about three storeys, “there was this piece that seemed to fall off”, he said.

“It was a dark grey panel, like aluminium. Some reports quoted me saying it looked to be about the size of a motorcycle.”

For a few seconds, he watched as the plane continued its ascent, then bank sharply to the right. The tail began to drop. The plane moved out of his sight, obstructed by a large building.

“Five to 10 seconds later, there was a thud. When you watch movies, you expect an almighty explosion, but it was nothing like that,” he said.

“There were plumes of smoke after that.” Flight SD2241 to Khartoum had crashed into the desert behind the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club, killing all six on board. At 3.32pm, one minute after the crash, Mr Dias took his Nokia phone and uploaded the following note to the micro-blogging site, Twitter: “Aircraft crashes on take-off from Sharjah. Seeing plumes of smoke as we speak. Part fell off on take-off.”

 Those in the news business would say Mr Dias broke the story. It would be a coup, except he is not a journalist.

In rushing to get the news out, however, he did react like one.

“We feared the worst, and thought it hit the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club,” he said. “So we called them and they didn’t even know it had happened.”

Mr Dias and his colleagues went back to the cafeteria.

“There was an adrenalin rush for an hour,” he said. “I’m an infrequent Twitterer, but I felt that I had to get the news out.”

He sat glued to his telephone, typing in updates as his friends looked on.

“I told my friend that I understood what it was like to be Dan Rather for two hours. It was really exciting.”

He tweeted the colour of the plane’s livery, the sirens, the absence of the smell of fuel and the direction of the plane as it plummeted toward the ground.

At 4.41pm, he updated: “Sorry, battery died tweeting from the food court. Still no confirmation on the airline, but it certainly didn’t look like Kish Air livery.”

About an hour after the crash, the first major media outlets were reporting the event.

Mr Dias’s actions in those first crucial moments alerted reporters to the story and spared them from having to rely on government officials for initial reports.

However, that convenience came at a price: the newspapers and their websites were no longer the go-to sources for breaking news. That honour belonged to Twitter.

No media organisation can match the site’s six-million-strong army, able to morph into on-the-ground reporters at the first sign of news, anywhere in the world.

After trying on a newsman’s hat, Albert Dias went home.

It was midnight before he realised what he had done: “Once the adrenalin wore off, it was awful. What hadn’t struck me was the thought that I had experienced this loss of life.”

People had died, he said. “The realisation of that had not sunk in earlier.”

Ministry of Labour on lookout for false reports of absconding

DUBAI - NOV 01: Employers who falsely claim that an employee has fled, so they do not have to pay them salary or benefits, for instance, will be vigorously prosecuted, a senior Ministry of Labour official said yesterday.

“If it proves that an employer has registered a malicious absconding report against an employee he will be referred to the Public Prosecution on charges of forging official documents,” Humaid bin Deemas, the ministry’s acting director general, said in a meeting with a group of journalists.

“There is a legal ground for us to refer such employers who try to escape their duties by putting out such false absconding reports, as giving false information in an official document is forgery,” he said.

It has always been illegal for employers to file a false report that one of their employees has broken their contract and absconded. Absconding is defined as not reporting for work for seven consecutive days without a valid reason.

According to the ministry, some employers had filed such reports to avoid paying salaries or so they would not have to pay end-of-service benefits.

“The absconding report is an organisational tool in the labour market which has been put in place so the concerned authorities could crack down on violators and we will not let it under any circumstances become a tool for employers who want to escape their duties or want to take vindictive actions against their employees,” he said.

He recounted an ongoing case in which a Pakistani woman appealed to him to help her husband, who was detained by police for allegedly absconding and was scheduled to be deported.

She said that after her husband had demanded two months’ back pay that he was owed, his employer told him they were going out on a job, but instead took him to the Naif police station.

The official, who did not disclose the names of the couple or the company, said the case was being investigated, and action would be taken against the employer if the allegations were proved correct.

He added that the problem was not “a trend”, but that the ministry would now aggressively pursue such cases so the practice did not spread.

The legal status of the majority of expatriates who live in the country is based on the employment visa issued to them once they start a job.

A person is considered illegal if he or she remains in the country without working for the employer who provided them with a visa that is still valid.

A person who has an absconding report registered against him or her will be deported from the country and classified as illegal.


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