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!