Drivers are being urged to take extra care, grip the steering wheel firmly, leave enough distance between cars, and be wary when passing high-sided vehicles when driving in high winds.
Gusty conditions, which have hit the country in recent weeks, are a usually overlooked danger to drivers with even the most skilled and experienced motorists caught off guard by strong winds.
According to Dr. Salaheddine Bendak, associate professor at the University of Sharjah, driving at normal speeds as if there is no wind or rain is a common mistake. He says that strong winds decrease the friction between the tires and the road surface, which makes controlling and steering the vehicle more difficult.
Robert Hodges, a driver education and road safety expert and former chief operating officer at Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai, urges drivers to hold the steering wheel more firmly than usual, especially when overtaking high-sided vehicles. He notes that driving a lower speed than normal is imperative as the wind can get under the vehicle, create an evident lightness and reduce the grip of the tires on the road.
A 4x4 vehicle is likely to become more unstable, and has a tendency to skid or roll than a smaller, lighter sedan type of car.
Hodges adds that drivers should scan ahead better and attempt to see potential dangers earlier. "In urban areas, rubble or building materials on the road might be hidden from one’s view just around the corner, while traffic signs or lighting cables are wildly swaying around."
In agreement to Hodges, Phil Clarke, principal safety consultant at Transport Research Laboratory, says: "Concentrate on your driving fully and look well ahead, try to anticipate if debris is likely to blow into the road, and give yourself plenty of time or room to react. Avoid distraction, including using mobile phones, which detract from the ability to focus on the road and traffic ahead."
The comments of the experts follow the strong winds and blowing sand in the first week of the month that wreaked havoc across the country. In Abu Dhabi, fierce gusts caused the trees to fall, while signboards were blown on to the roads.
Abu Dhabi Police’s central operations room got 4,000 calls from drivers in the capital, Al Ain and the western region. However, there were no major traffic accidents reported.
In Dubai, strong winds overturned a crane on Sheikh Zayed Road, injuring one person, damaging a hotel and a number of vehicles.
In accordance with Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE, high-sided vehicles are gravely affected by blustery weather, and the motorist has to be aware of directional changes caused by gusts of wind. He says that the same applies to motorbikes as they are more unstable than cars.
Hodges also advises motorists to beware of extremely high speeds coming off the sea if driving on a road close to the Gulf, adding that wind speed is typically very high and can be quite intense when it first touches dry land. He claims that open stretches of road and higher elevations in the mountainous regions in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah are likely to experience sudden gusts.
Hodges concludes that extreme sideways wind force can also be felt when going past tall sand dunes and wadis which block the side wind for a few seconds. "When you leave the ‘shelter’ of these areas, your vehicle can easily be pushed by the wind into the next road lane, or even into the path of oncoming vehicles."