The startling rise of almost 50% in road deaths in the first half of this year provoked an announcement by the Traffic and Licensing Department which I found almost as startling. It said that drivers were especially preoccupied with rising prices and responsibilities, at a time when the number of vehicles on the road had risen faster than ever. In other words, it attributed the problem to stress.
As a professional stress consultant, it is normally my job to try and put this message across to officialdom, often with difficulty. Now we have an enlightened civil servant proposing the motion – and readers of Gulf News have been quick to respond with their own views in a lively public correspondence.
To me, these readers’ letters were most revealing. They were written by people experiencing for the first time two things long-familiar to us in the UK – inflation and traffic congestion.
Both of these have a huge potential for raising stress-levels. In both cases, they threaten those ‘fixed points’ by which you take your bearings in life. This can leave you in a permanent state of anxiety, dreading possible further escalation of the problem, as reflected in many of the letters.
The first thing I noticed was a tendency to list a lot of daily preoccupations. One of them quotes “Rent, bank instalments, credit card payments, family maintenance …” Another mentions “Personal loan, car loan, parking fee, house rent …”
This shows inflation as a many-headed monster that can haunt the mind all day and night. (One reader said that his rent was half his salary. Two others said they might have to leave the country.) Clearly this degree of worry can make you less alert at the wheel. Other readers figured-out that traffic congestion makes you late, and therefore more inclined to take risks in order to catch up.
But neither of these actually excuses bad habits on the road. As I pointed out in this column a few months back, it takes emotional maturity to realise that the road is not your private driveway, but a large community on the move.
I couldn’t help wondering whether one or two of these readers might have caused a ‘near miss’ incident on the road, and then gone into denial about their own responsibility – trying to assume some kind of victim status.
At any rate, they should pay heed to those other readers who robustly dismissed these ‘lame excuses’ and reminded us that road-deaths are caused simply by selfish and reckless drivers, who can be found all over the world. But in Dubai, so new to traffic congestion, they feel they can get away with it.
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