Abu Dhabi Driving: A Refresher Course

Dear Abu Dhabi Driver,

I’ve been driving around quite a bit the last few days and I’m thinking that maybe a little review about how to maneuver a several-ton vehicle through crowded streets would be useful, maybe even essential.

Let’s  start with some basics, shall we?

I’m driving a (rented) bright blue Nissan Tiida, which in the US they call a Versa. No, I don’t know why they change the names, but that’s not the point. I know that little blue hatchbacked rear end is really, really cute, and you want to get close enough to see if the name is “Tiida” or “Tilda,” but probably you don’t have to get your white Toyota Land Cruiser close enough to climb into my backseat. Really, I can see you–you can drop back just an itsy-bitsy bit. See? Isn’t that better? Gives us both a little breathing room.

While we’re talking about following distance, here’s something to keep in mind: having an entire car length between you and the car in front is probably a good idea. Sudden stops and all that, you know? Someone explained to a friend of mine that the correct following distance is being able to see the rear wheels of the car in front of you. Mmmm….no. You want to see the entire car. And if you’re so close that you can’t see the wheels at all? Then suddenly you and your car have become passengers in my Tilda.

See those white dotted lines that divide Abu Dhabi’s avenues into four lines of traffic going in either direction? See how those same lines also mark one left turn lane for U-turns, and another left turn lane for just regular turns, and even another lane for the free right turn? Those white lines–they’re pretty, right? Some of them even sparkle and stuff.  But here’s the thing. When you straddle those lines as you drive it’s really hard for the rest of us to see the pretty marks.  It’s sort of selfish, if you see what I mean. So just like when you choose a cookie at snack time, pick a lane and stick with it, mmmkay?

By the same token, those pretty white lines are intended to keep us all moving along in the same general direction, which is to say, forward. So when you come in on the far right and then cut across four lanes of traffic to get into the far left u-turn lane? Well, that’s just a bit confusing for the rest of us, because it’s like you’re going sideways, while we’re all going forwards. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the march to a different drummer thing, but you might want to consider whether you absolutely need that left turn this second.

Those free right turns. Love ’em, right? Just barrel up to the stoplights and blammo, blast that right turn without slowing down. No light, no yield, just floor it and go. If you’re lucky, you can take out one, two, maybe three pedestrians (those are the people standing up outside your car. They may look sort of blurry to you, given that you’re going about 120km in a 60).  Slight problem, though: those right turn lanes are also where the vertical people have to perform that death-defying act known as crossing the street. I know, stupid of them, right? They should just get cars like everyone else. Just so you know, though, it is possible to slow down as you make that right turn. Maybe even, you know, stop for a minute, and let the verticals scurry across. Just a thought.

Perhaps you could use that pedestrian stoppage time for your texting. Because you know what? Texting while you’re moving rapidly down the road is a big multi-tasking don’t. Yesterday, a woman texting in a red sedan rear-ended my kids’ schoolbus. A big bright-yellow bus sitting at a stoplight. No one was hurt, but here’s the thing: the driver didn’t see a BIG YELLOW BUS. It’s not like she bumped into a little Mini or a Smart car or a bicycle. Nope. She was so intent on C U LTR that she CRSHD the front of her car. SUX.  You want your hands at 10 and 2, darlings, 10 and 2. What? You say you weren’t taught that? Okay, fine, let’s skip the technical stuff and go simple: two hands on the wheel at all times.

Let’s think about the car interior for a minute, okay? See those sort of stick things coming out from the steering wheel? The stick on one side is for windshield wipers. We don’t have a lot of use for those here in the desert, that’s true. But the stick on the other side is pretty useful. It’s something called indicators, or turn signals, or blinkers, or those-pretty-flickering-red-light-thingys.  That stick will let the people behind your car know if you’re planning a turn. Generally speaking, letting the people behind you know that you’re about to turn is a good idea. Keeps us from becoming vehicularly intimate, if you see what I mean. But when you turn on the left blinker and go right, well, that can make the person behind you swear as she stomps on the brakes to avoid you. And then if she were to have children in the car, that braking driver would end up owing her children money, because maybe she made a deal with them that every time she swears, she owes them a dirham.  If you decide to turn without bothering to flick your indicator, well, that could lead to more sudden braking, more swearing, more dirham-owing. A person could get out of her car owing each of her kids 10, 15, 30 dirham.

Kids. You might have kids, O Abu Dhabi driver. Maybe you have a little boy, whose eyes glisten when he looks at the array of gadgets on the dashboard of your Porsche Panamera.  Maybe he begs, whines, pleads to sit in front and watch the speedometer rev.  I say to you, resist those limpid baby eyes! Your kid shouldn’t be in the front seat of your car, especially not your turbo Porsche. I mean, think about it. You just dropped more than 75K on a car and if your kid is in the front seat and you have to stop suddenly–then it’s forehead on the dashboard time, and there’s bruising, maybe scratches on the finish, maybe blood staining the leather, and really, who needs that? Putting a kid’s car seat in the front seat isn’t going to solve your problem either, although it might save the leather seats. When the passenger-side airbag detonates, it’s going to carom into your child’s sweet face with a velocity we don’t want to think about. Throw the little darlings in the back seat. Really, trust me on this one.

But if they’re in the back seat, your little habibi? You might want to suggest that they shouldn’t hang out the windows waving at people as you roll down Hamdan Street. Also? Ix-nay on the hanging out the unroof-say. Limbs and digits inside the car, darlings, inside. Do us all a favor and prevent your kids from becoming, you know, speed bumps. Ouch.

Finally? I know you’re very proud of your super-fast Lamborferrarasati, but here’s the thing: just because there is a Formula One racetrack in Abu Dhabi doesn’t mean you need to drive like a Formula One driver. Without being mean, let me say this: you are not an international race car driver. I am not a ballet dancer and you are not, nor will you ever be, a race car hero.  I know that your German pepper pot goes faster than my skinny-wheeled Nissan and I’m fine with that. You don’t have to blow by me at eighty gazillion miles an hour to prove it.  But while we’re on the subject, why are you driving a car named for a spice? Porsche Cayenne? What were the discarded tester names for that, do you think? Tumeric Turbo? Salt Supra? Hybrid Harissa?

If you can follow these simple guidelines, dear driver, I am sure we can have a wonderful on-road relationship.  See you in the left-turn lane!


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32 Responses to Abu Dhabi Driving: A Refresher Course

  1. Jamie February 16, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    We have those text-ers rear-enders here too. Makes me crazy. Funny post. I bet it is quite the different life.

    • Deborah Quinn February 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

      Texting while driving here is such a huge problem that they run hideously gory public service announcements to warn people against it. And yet…constantly. Cars go flying by and the driver’s head is focused somewhere other than the road. Shudder!

  2. Dick Horwich February 17, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    The male viewpoint (i.e., technical matters): the current opinion on proper following distance is two seconds, whatever the speed. (No one does this.). And interestingly, the hands at 10 and 2 was found to result in broken arms if the air bag deployed. I’ll bet your steering wheel’s spokes are configured to get your hands at something closer to 5 and 7.

    I loved this piece, its universality, its controlled irony. Looking forward to seeing the carnage for myself.

  3. Lady Jennie February 17, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    On a related subject, once I saw a family on a moped. Father driving with two kids standing on the platform in front of him, mother behind him with a baby strapped to her back, grandma on the very back edge of the seat. Oh, and a kitchen sink in the basket in front.

    Drivers in Asia are cah-razy! Oh, and Africa too.

    • Deborah Quinn February 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      Your moped sighting…were you in India, by chance? My top sighting was six: toddler in front, then driver, then another toddler, then a woman in a sari, then another toddler, and then a woman in a sari hanging on in the back. All with bundles and bags. It was like a circus act, but performed on a main street in Delhi. I was terrified. But your kitchen sink tops my sighting, totally.

  4. Ado February 21, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    Oh my, you are a brave, brave girl driving around Abu Dhabi. I would get road rage and get into a pickle, I just know it. This was hilarious. Print it out in Arabic and next time you see the rear-ender, follow him to the parking lot and then you’ll have a use for the windshield wiper.

  5. Jennifer February 21, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Holy smokes that sounds frightening! Let’s hope culture shock doesn’t ever turn into culture crash. It is really fun reading about your experiences abroad. You really bring it all to life!

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:13 am #

      Thanks for the note! Yes, culture clash is all too easily culture crash, you’re totally right (and I may have to borrow your phrase, thank you veddy much). Driving here keeps me sweaty-palmed and anxious at all times. I’m pretty much sure that the other guy is going to do something idiotic. I’m not sure that’s what they mean by “defensive driving” but it’s all I’ve got for the moment.

  6. Runnermom-jen February 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    This was scary and funny all at the same time. I really do not want to drive there…EVER! You are a very brave soul 😉

  7. Katie February 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    I have so much road rage I’d end up dead in 10 minutes there I’m sure. I agree with others, you’re very brave to drive there! Of course, nowadays driving anywhere is quite the major feat. I very much enjoyed this open letter to Abu Dhabi drivers. I would like to copy Carrollton, Georgia drivers on the letter as well 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:12 am #

      I do find myself banging the steering wheel occasionally (okay, at least once a day). And I will also say that driving here seemed possible once I’d visited Delhi. there isn’t enough money in the world to get me to drive in that city. INSANE. But yes, I htink we *all* have our pet peeves with the drivers we encounter every day….

  8. Laura@Catharsis February 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Oh, the joys of crazy drivers. I can’t understand the tailgating above all else. It puts me in a panic when someone is sniffing my exhaust, you know? Yes, you know, for you wouldn’t have written this handy driving guide if you didn’t!

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:10 am #

      The exhaust sniffing – exactly. It’s like what dogs do to make friends. Sorry, dude in the range rover, it’s not how I like to meet people. Exactly. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Jamie February 21, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    I am a bad driver but I think even I can follow these simple rules!

  10. Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms February 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    Oh my! Wishing you nerves of steel and the protection of a flock of guardian angels. Ellen

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:08 am #

      Ha! Thanks! I think maybe it’s the guardian angels who will need the nerves of steel!

  11. Alison@Mama Wants This February 22, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Hahahaha!! I live in Malaysia and it’s very apparent we have the same kind of drivers here.

    With the addition of a million motorcycle riders to whom traffic laws do not seem to apply.

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:08 am #

      God–the motorbikes. In India the motorbikes were the terror of the roads – and even more so because they piled people and possessions onto them in gravity-defying fashion – then zoom in and out of traffic with death-defying speed. Terrified me (and I wasn’t even driving; I was just a passenger). I thought I’d seen bad driving in the states, but out here I’ve seen stuff that makes my jaw drop. It’s crazy out there!

  12. Kimberly S. (Sperk*) February 23, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I can’t stand driving in my little American neighborhood. I think I would make the headlines in a bad case of road rage there. Good writing, as always.

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:06 am #

      aww…thanks for the compliment – driving has never been my favorite thing and here I’m reminded, daily, of why I don’t like it. Ugh!

  13. Just Jennifer February 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    I’m thinking this could apply to drivers all over the world! Very funny and well-written.

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:05 am #

      Thanks for the kind words! I think every city has its peculiarities, you’re absolutely right – and so everyone can relate to the idiots who cut across a zillion lanes of traffic and so on. Maybe it’s because so many of hte cars here are so damn big that it’s as if I’m puttering along the highway with tanks. Nervewracking!

  14. Jackie February 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    I”m from Jersey, land of the six lane highway. I can handle those drivers, it’s those one who drive like the elderly that get me more. I might just be one of those drivers you hate…I’m sorry!

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:04 am #

      A jersey girl might be just the person to whip this place into shape, actually…I used to live in Boston, so I thought I was tough, but this place has totally got me sweaty-palmed and anxious. 🙂

  15. Mamamzungu February 24, 2012 at 1:31 am #

    This is hilarious!! I love your biting (and spot on) sarcasm. Similar “road rules” here in Kenya, though people (and mototbikes) probably have a bit more power. Great post and I feel your frustration.

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:03 am #

      If there were as many motorbikes here as in Kenya or in India, I think the entire city would simply grind to a halt. And I have to say that after visiting Delhi, in fact, driving here didn’t look quite so bad. Not great, but not quite such a madhouse. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. q February 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Naming cars after spices might be the most fantastic and under used idea in naming history. I would completely love driving my GMC Onion Powder…

    • Deborah Quinn February 25, 2012 at 2:01 am #

      That comment cracks me up. Exactly. Volvo Vanilla Essence, anyone?


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