All red signal violators will not be jailed

A Correspondent
Filed on March 25, 2005

DUBAI — A traffic official has explained that every violation of the red signal need not land drivers in jail. It depends on whether a case is referred to court or not.

“A traffic court judge is the final authority that decides whether or not a motorist involved in such a violation should be imprisoned,” Brigadier Mohammed Saif Al Zafeen, the Director of Dubai Traffic Police Department, clarified yesterday, seeking to play down the panic ignited by a report in a section of the English Press.

The report had caused concern among the motoring public in the emirate as well as in other parts of the UAE, as there has been uncertainty whether everyone jumping the red signal, even by mistake or forgetfulness rather than intentionally, would land in jail.

When a case is referred to the court, if the violation, for instance, caused a serious accident or was the result of drunken driving, the motorist in question will have a tough time, Brig Al Zafeen said.

A 10-year-old federal traffic law has a provision to imprison traffic law violators. Jumping the red is just one of several serious traffic offences that have been causing major concern, as Dubai witnesses unprecedented vehicular traffic prompted by astronomical growth in all sectors. This has prompted police to intensify traffic awareness campaigns at all levels and in various languages.

“A driver can get involved in an accident, not as a result of a direct mistake or his or her wrong calculations, but this would not relieve him of the necessity of taking all precautions as mistakes could be made by others,” Brig Al Zafeen told students at Al Aqsa School for Boys.

However, speaking to Khaleej Times, the official declined to comment on the legal matters relevant to the issue of sentencing motorists involved in jumping the red signal and causing accidents. He said the decision lay solely with the judicial authorities.

Another official said the “question here relates to whether or not the case is referred to the court”.

According to the rules followed by the law enforcement agency in Dubai, a motorist violating red signal is fined Dh500 and six black points are added to his or her traffic file in accordance with the Demerit Point System introduced in the early 1990s.

But a senior judge, who said the traffic court has so far ordered imprisonment in six cases to motorists jumping the red signal and getting involved in serious accidents, said: “The court will jail the person if it was not convinced by the circumstances that would counteract the imprisonment requirement.”

Justice Ahmed Shawki of the Dubai Traffic Court said that motorists who jump the red signal and are found to be under the influence of alcohol would naturally have tougher penalties, including imprisonment and fine and the penalty associated with the offence of driving under the influence of alcohol.

“The court is the authority to impose the appropriate penalty, whether it is imprisonment or fine that replaces the imprisonment term under certain conditions like whether the driver was not reckless or that he or she jumped the signal at a low speed. In cases other than these, the penalty will be imprisonment,” said the judge in statements given to reporters.

The Federal Traffic Law of 1995 governs traffic matters including imprisonment issues. Article No. 53 states a motorist involved in reckless driving or who drives at excessive speed that poses dangers to others shall be given a jail sentence up to six months and a fine of not more than Dh3,000. Article 57 of the same law further explains the penalties.

Police measures include the seizure of the vehicle on the first offence for one week, to be increased if the offence is repeated.

Jumping the traffic signal caused 209 accidents in Dubai last year in which 11 people died.

Traffic awareness campaigns appear to have failed in delivering the message as the death toll from road accidents rise in Dubai and other places in the UAE.

Police and judicial officials are unanimous about the importance of stepping up traffic awareness efforts.

Jumping the red signal has assumed large proportions of traffic violations in the last few years.

In August 2003, a traffic police official said that within the first five months of that year, around 7,000 such violations were registered in Dubai. Traffic officials warned that unless these violations stopped, this offence would continue to claim more lives and cause more serious injuries than any other factor blamed for road accidents.

Devices installed by Dubai Police at intersections as well as police patrols in various parts of the city registered 6,868 violations related to jumping the red signal in that period. Of them, 3,777 offences were registered by ‘radars’.

Such violations in 2002 numbered 11,555, of which 7,412 were detected by speed monitoring devices.

The traffic department has also installed devices at intersections to detect violators and speedsters. The first of these radar devices were installed in 2001. Most intersections in Dubai have now been equipped with cameras to detect motorists jumping the red signal.

There are now about 20 such devices around the city including in the following intersections: Manara, Aathar, Mina, Sana, Dnata, Rashidiyah, Qusais, Nad Al Hamar, Dhiyafa and Nahda.

Police also use ‘mobile radars’ at other intersections. A high-powered traffic safety committee said the double-function devices detect red signal violations and curb speeding simultaneously. Officials said the tough court rulings appear to be necessary as despite the tough penalties in the past, the violation continued to be rampant.

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