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Driving in Dubai

Sunday 24 March 2019 (UAE)   
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Traffic and driving in Dubai

Driving in Dubai - what is it like to drive in Dubai and the UAE, road rules, traffic jams, driver habits, navigation, road conditions, for expats how it is different from your home country.

Whilst Dubai has a great road network with 8 and 10 lane highways (or more on some stretches), the standard of driving in Dubai can be abysmal at times. The death toll on Dubai roads is one of the highest in the world per head of population, no doubt this is exacerbated by the prevalence of powerful expensive cars and opportunities to drive them fast. It doesn't help that 80% or more of Dubai is expatriate with a wide range of nationalities represented - anyone who has travelled out of their home country will immediately notice that driving standards and habits vary the world over. Assume that every bad habit you've ever seen is imported into Dubai and you'll get the idea.

Despite feeling sometimes like you're in the middle of a Wacky Races cartoon, a brief holiday with a rental car in Armenia, India, Iran, Lebanon, Russia, or several other countries might reassure you that the UAE does have some road rules and is not quite as bad as you thought. A federal black point system and unified List of traffic fines in UAE was implemented in 2008.

In the UAE, highways are mostly still called a street or a road e.g. Emirates Road not Emirates highway. Sometimes exceptions e.g. Sharjah-Dubai highway but is also called Sharjah-Dubai road (official name is Al Ittihad Road) or variations on a theme.

Speed limits in Dubai and UAE (speed radar camera settings in brackets)

Most fixed radars and speed cameras are set to 20 kph above the signposted speed limit, but some might be set only 10 kph above, and some apparently set 30 kph above the limit according to a report 24 Feb 2014 (we would not recommend relying on this report though, it sounds dubious to us). Mobile radars might be set to anything. Follow taxi drivers if in doubt, they usually have a better idea of the maximum speed allowed. Don't follow cars with low number plates or heavy window tinting, they might have enough wasta to avoid paying for speeding fines, or have enough money to view speeding fines as a sort of VIP road toll.

  • Main highways and motorways 100kph (110 or 120 kph) or 120 kph (130 or 140 kph).
  • Main roads within cities usually 80kph. Some are 60 kph (even roads that look like motorways occasionally) or 100 kph. Also occasionally 70 kph (Jumeirah Beach Rd for example).
  • Minor roads within community areas 40 kph usually.
  • Abu Dhabi highways sometimes have a higher limit - 140 kph (160 kph radar setting), for example the Dubai Abu Dhabi highway after the border between the two emirates but be careful, this might change (or have changed by the time you read this) to 120 kph maximum.
  • School buses stopped to allow children to get on or off - you're supposed to stop and wait.

Conversion from km per hour to miles per hour (very approximate):

km/hr   30   40   50   60   70   80  100  110  120  130  140  160  200  250  300
mph 20 25 30 35 40 50 60 70 75 80 90 100 120 150 180

Speeding limit changes in the UAE

  • 24 Feb 2014 (E247) - the chief of Dubai Traffic Police, Maj-Gen Mohammed Saif Al Zafeen, was reported (again - he said a similar thing in Feb 2013) as saying he was proposing a unified maximum speed limit across the UAE, and a reduced grace limit or tolerance. Report said he wanted a maximum of 110 km/h but he apparently was only referring to Dubai ("the emirate") rather than the UAE (the Emirates).
  • 2014 - Abu Dhabi speed limit reduced on highway past Al Raha Beach area to 100kph (radars set to 120 kph)?
  • 28 Feb 2013 (E-247) - chief of Dubai Traffic Police, Major General Mohammed Saif Al Zafeen, had proposed a reduction in maximum speed limit on major highways in Dubai from 120kph to 110 kph, and reduce the grace limit from 20kph to 10kph. He also said he was proposing and increase in the minimum speed limit on highways, suggesting 90 kph instead of 60kph. No time frame given for implementation.
Road accident statistics in Dubai and UAE

Accidents and crashes in Dubai result in about 1 death and 8 injuries per day (2006 data), or 20 deaths per 100,000 population (compared to about 6 per 100,000 for the UK and Sweden). A few more statistics for the end of 2007 (for the UAE overall, not just Dubai):

  • 2.35 million driver licence holders (and only 161,000 women which should delight all those male chauvinists out there)
  • 1.7 million registered vehicles
  • 6800-7000 major traffic accidents in 2007, approximate breakdown is:
    • Abu Dhabi - 2200
    • Dubai - 1800
    • Ras Al Khaimah - 950
    • Sharjah - 780
    • Fujairah - 570
    • Ajman - 280
    • Umm Al Quwain - 170
  • 830 traffic related deaths in 2007 (878 in 2006)
  • According to Colonel Gaith Al Za'abi, Director of Traffic Department at the UAE Ministry of Interior (Gulf News report 13 January 2008), 25% of accidents in 2007 involved UAE nationals, 49% involved Asians, and 19% involved Arab nationals. A percentage figure for western nationalities was not given in the report.
On this page
Dangers & Hazards
Speed Bumps
Road Rules
Pay Fines Online
Traffic Jams
Road Tolls
Road Rage
Car parking
Tourists driving
Accidents Emergencies
Car theft
Related pages
Accidents and road deaths in Dubai and UAE
Year Traffic related deaths   Traffic accidents reported
  Abu Dhabi Dubai Sharjah RAK UAE total   Abu Dhabi Dubai Sharjah RAK UAE total
2010   154                  
2009   225           3576      
2008   294           4011      
2007   332     830     3335      
2006   312     878     3224      
2005   236           2794      
2004   206           2413      
2003   218           2287      
2002   192           2153      
2001   185           2208      
2000   165           2135      
1999   148           2286      
  • Dubai Police have a target of zero deaths in traffic related incidents by the year 2020 (June 2010 reports).
  • Sources: Dubai Police for Dubai statistics.

At the end of October 2006, Sheikh Mohammad, the Ruler of Dubai, announced that he had instructed the Dubai Police to crack down on poor driving in Dubai, and the RTA (Roads and Traffic Authority) to find solutions to the city's traffic problems. In particular, the police will focus on speeding (with mobile radars and unmarked cars), and driving through red traffic signals (with loss of driving license if the driver is involved in an accident). It remains to be seen how much of an effect this will have but an announced objective is to reduce the death rate on Dubai's roads from one of the highest in the world to the lowest. Some comments on this page may need to be revised depending on how these initiatives pan out - for example there are reports of vehicles being impounded for changing lanes without using indicators. Could this result in a 90% reduction in the number of vehicles on the roads in Dubai?

Worst drivers in Dubai
  • Dubai Police said the largest number of deaths in Dubai in 2007 and 2008 were caused by Pakistani drivers, and they seemed to conclude that Pakistani drivers were the worst in Dubai. A Gulf News report 29 January 2009 misleadingly wrote Pakistanis remained the most dangerous drivers in Dubai for the second consecutive year, while most number of people killed in traffic accidents were Indians, say Dubai Police statistics. However, Gulf News readers in a poll said Emiratis are the most dangerous drivers.
  • The statistics do not appear to take into account the actual numbers of drivers of different nationalities in Dubai and the UAE. A large proportion of bus and truck drivers are nationals of Pakistan and so highest number of deaths caused does not necessarily mean that Pakistani nationals are the "most dangerous drivers" despite what the Gulf News says.
Abu Dhabi speed limit changes - 06 August 2012
  • The 20 km/hr buffer or grace allowance will be gradually removed during 2013 and 2014 according to a report in The National of comments by Brig Hussein Ahmed Al Harithi, Head of the Traffic Department at Abu Dhabi Police. Which means that when the signposted limit is 60 kph or 120 kph, it really does mean 60 kph or 120 kph.
Emirati drivers in the UAE - 25 January 2011
  • WAM (the official UAE news agency) carried a story headed "Reckless driving practices by young Emirati males blamed for high car accident rate" referring to a study by Dr Taha Amir and Dr Shamma Al Falasy from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at UAE University. The research was funded by The Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy (Director of Information and Administration is Mohanna Al Muhairi). Report not supplied, or found on the UAEU College of HSS website (most recent publication available is from 2009), nor on the EF website (most recent report from 2008).
  • The study surveyed 576 people in the UAE aged 18-33 in three groups - 466 Emirati males, 52 Emirati females, and 58 Arab expatriates. No information provided on whether the UAE University intends to survey other expat drivers for their attitudes and driving habits, leaving one wondering if the lack of balance indicates there was an agenda behind the report.
  • Comments in the WAM report included:
    • ... up to a quarter of young Emirati males admit that they engage in risky driving practices. Most of the time, if not always, they exceed speed limits, overtake using the wrong lane, intrude to force way and tailgate.
    • ... up to half of the young Emirati males in the sample stated that they are engaged in one or more risky and/or illegal driving practices: not fastening the seatbelt, using mobile phone while driving, stopping car in inner lane to chat with another driver and driving in the wrong direction down a one-way street.
    • Some 16 per cent [of the Emiratis surveyed] state that they mostly will overtake the car in front if the driver is an expatriate or from another emirate,
    • An important finding is that tailgating ... is seen as respected behaviour among many Emirati young males, as is obtaining reductions in traffic fines.
  • No doubt the report and the study will provide fodder for both expat and Emirati conversations at the local pubs and coffee shops, and online forums in Dubai.
05 April 2011 - new speed limit on Abu Dhabi Dubai highway
  • After a 127 car pile-up on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway (E11) on 02 April 2011 which resulted in at least 1 death and over 60 injured, a proposal to reduce the speed limit from 160 kph to 140 kph was put forward.
  • The new speed limit takes effect from 18 April 2011? Effective speed limit will be 140 kph with no grace or buffer.
03 January 2011 - new speed limits in Abu Dhabi
  • Speed limits within Abu Dhabi change from 01 January 2011 to between 20 kph and 40 kph within suburban areas in Abu Dhabi city according to reports at the end of December 2010.
  • Speed limit of 60 kph with an additional 20 kph allowance on Airport Road, Muroor Road, Al Khaleej Al Arabi Street, and Abu Dhabi Corniche.
  • Speed limits on some highways remain at 140 km/hr with a grace or allowance of 20 km/hr - Gulf News reported that an Abu Dhabi Police spokesman said "It means a motorist will be fined if he or she crosses 160km/h on highways." The highways referred to include Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway from Al Mafraq bridge to Seih Al Shoaib, Abu Dhabi-Al Ain highway from Baniyas Park to Al Sa'ad area in Al Ain, and Al Shawmekh to Al Heer.
  • Confusingly though, The National reported on 26 December 2010 that the limit on some of those highways is not 140 kph - No changes will be made to the speed limits on the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain highway or the Abu Dhabi-Dubai route, where the speed limit is 120kph.
19 October 2009 - speed limit reductions for taxis, buses, trucks
  • Brigadier Mohammed Saif Al Zafin, Director of the Dubai Police General Department of Traffic was reported in the Khaleej Times 19 October 2009 as saying that the tolerance would be reduced to 10 km/hr for taxis, buses, and trucks from November 2009, but didn't explain how the radar cameras would differentiate between cars and other vehicles before being triggered. He did however say that "Reducing the radar control speed limit will decrease serious accidents by 10 per cent during the next coming months."
  • Speed radars in Dubai are usually set to a tolerance of 20km/hr over the posted speed limit, although there have been reports that they are set to only 10km/hr over for everyone, and there are a number of anecdotal stories of people getting flashed for doing less than 20 km/hr over the speed limit.
Previous latest updates on traffic regulations and other driving issues in Dubai
  • 05 Jan 2011 - drivers speeding through green traffic signals in Dubai will cop a fine and might get their cars impounded. Major General Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of the General Traffic Department at Dubai Police said at a press conference "We didn't set a date yet, but it will be very soon this year. The 157 cameras set at traffic intersections to take the picture of violators who drive at a red light will also be turned into speeding radars which would take pictures of drivers speeding at a green light."
  • 21 Sep 2010, Arabian Business reported comments from Khalaf Al Habtoor, founder of Al Habtoor Group, and a well-known business figure in Dubai (but not a policeman or Dubai Government official), who said about the Salik road toll "If they insist on Salik either they have to reduce it or to make it free." He also said there were too many speed cameras "Even in the desert there are cameras; there are no houses, but there a lot of cameras, not only cameras which are near roads but also hidden under the bushes, and the [police] cars chase you." Unknown what the RTA or the Dubai Police thought about this advice.
  • Jun 2010 - the Chief of Dubai Police, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, said in response to comments that traffic fines in Dubai were designed to collect revenue that "If saving lives is interpreted as a profit-making scheme then that is a strange opinion; in my opinion the value of human life is priceless and you cannot put a value on it," (Arabian Business 20 June 2010).
  • 01 Mar 2008 - from this date minimum fine for drink-driving will be 20,000 dhs, possibly a year in jail. Same fine for number plate offences, leaving accident scene. Black points system to be implemented also. Minimum 5000 dhs fine and up to 3 months jail for driving without a license or vehicle in category not licensed for, borrowing or selling number plates. Fines for various other offences also increased. Pedestrians crossing roads with speed limits greater than 80 km/hr will be held responsible if they get hit or cause an accident.
  • 09 Dec 2007 - Gulf News reported that according to Captain Engineer Ahmad Hussain Al Harthy, Head of Traffic Management and Road Safety Section of the Abu Dhabi Police Traffic and Patrol Division, that drivers may be jailed for a week with confiscation of their vehicles for a month if found to be breaking laws in a report about Abu Dhabi Police cracking down on speeding and dangerous driving.
  • 19 Oct 2007 - Dubai petrol stations (EMARAT, ENOC, EPPCO) will no longer accept credit cards for payment. This appears to be a plan B to save money. Plan A was charging motorists an extra fee for using a credit card, and lasted about a month. Did we hear the word cartel? Petrol stations in other emirates (ADNOC) are still accepting credit cards.
  • 27 Sep 2007 - new traffic laws are being drafted which will mean increased jail time and fines for drink-driving, hit and run but, oddly, reduced penalties for driving without a licence. And if you hit a pedestrian on a road with a speed limit greater than 80 kph, you may be able to defend yourself (at present the driver is automatically held responsible if a pedestrian is hit).
  • 15 Sep 2007 - Dubai Police will start using radar guns to catch people travelling below the new minimum speed limit of 60 km/hr. So far the rule hasn't been enforced.
  • 04 Aug 2007 - a minimum speed limit of 60 kph is being introduced on major highways in Dubai where the maximum speed limit is 100 kph or more. This probably won't mean that people stuck in traffic jams on the Sheikh Zayed Road will suddenly become unstuck.
  • 01 Jul 2007 - Salik road toll starts on Sheikh Zayed Road.
  • 17 Jun 2007 - Gulf News reports that vehicle owners who allow unlicensed drivers to drive their car, will be fined, and reported on a couple of recent court cases. Note that this could include tourists who drive private vehicles without a UAE licence.
  • 07 May 2007 - The RTA intends to implement a minimum speed limit of 60 kph on major highways in Dubai, reports the Gulf News.
  • 06 Apr 2007 - Khaleej Times reports the RTA said holders of licences from countries that were previously allowed to exchange them for a UAE driving licence must now do a minimum 21 driving classes and a driving test. Apparently this rule has been in place since 15 January 2007. See Dubai driving licence discussion for article and to comment.
  • 24 Jan 2007 - press reports that traffic fines will increase 10x or more to 1000-3000 dhs from 100-200 dhs. Increases yet to be approved and implemented, dates not given.
  • 22 Dec 2006 - Emirates Today reports that fines for dangerous driving expected to increase to 1000-3000 dhs.
  • 19 Dec 2006 - Emirates Today reports the RTA intends to fine pavement parkers up to 500 dhs (no date given, currently fine is 150 dhs).

Emirates Today (a UAE newspaper) in early November 2006 started publishing photos of cars crashing through red lights, and other offences. This promotion is not meant to be a competition as far as we know. At the same time however, the weekly Gulf News "Accident of the Week" article seems to have stopped, instead they've followed in ET's footsteps with photos of traffic law infringements also.

Basic information about driving in Dubai

Cars are left-hand drive, and traffic is supposed to stay on the right hand side of the road (as in Europe, US and Canada; opposite of Britain, Asia, Australia, South Africa and NZ). Bicycles with cardboard boxes or newspapers stacked up on the rear, however, seem to prefer doing the opposite - that may be a result of cyclists wanting to "face the enemy". Boxless bicycles usually travel on the correct side of the road.

Driving hazards and dangers in Dubai

Camels are a novelty for many expats and are rarely seen inside city areas. Outside the cities, they're also dangerous as they have no road sense and whilst many roads are protected with camel fences, that doesn't guarantee the camels are on the correct side. If you hit one, you'll have two problems. The first is that due to their height, they're likely to topple and go through your windshield at whatever speed you were doing when you hit it. The second is that they are expensive - especially as you'll be sure to have hit the most prized racing camel in the owners herd. Keep these thoughts in mind as you tear down an unlit or poorly lit country road at night. Camels usually like to hobble towards cars (many camels ambling about have their feet tied together to limit how quickly they can move).

Other animals/objects that you are likely to encounter are donkeys (which seem to stay put when a car approaches but you should slow down anyway if you see one, rather than see it as an opportunity for slaloming around them) and goats (which presumably have more brains than camels or donkeys since they usually run away from approaching cars - admittedly at the last minute so you still have a good chance of hitting one). In the city, there are a few dogs and cats to avoid occasionally.

Small children run around chasing footballs across the road as they do in any country. There's not many of them on bicycles though. It's not uncommon to see adults trying to cross motorways/highways in Dubai. The authorities are trying to curb this with fences in the middle so it's becoming less of a hazard. Some Dubai pedestrians appear to have no idea that cars are unable to stop abruptly and will attempt to cross roads at the most inane times. Be alert, especially at night. Thankfully, the heat in Dubai means that pedestrian numbers are relatively low.

Speed Bumps (Speed Humps, Speed Breakers, Sleeping Policemen, Judder Bars)

If you don't know what these are, they're bumps in the road constructed deliberately so that traffic is forced to slow down. They vary in size and shape so that some you can cruise over at 50 kph whilst others will remove important mechanical parts of your expensive sports car which has only 6mm of ground clearance. Most are reasonably well signposted but some aren't, especially at night and especially outside the main roads of Dubai. And they do appear in occasionally odd places like the middle of a highway - more likely in other emirates.

Rules of the Road in Dubai and which ones you really should follow

Dubai driving rules and laws are fairly standard and will be similar to most other countries. Adherence to the rules of the road is a different story. People arriving in Dubai from most western countries will get the sense that it's a bit of a chaotic free-for-all driving in Dubai. People arriving in Dubai from somewhere like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Iran will probably find Dubai a refreshlingly calm place to drive. People coming from an Asian city will discover that using gears other than first or reverse is actually possible in a city.

Dubai police usually deal with minor traffic offences and hand out fines up to 500 dhs (could be 3000 dhs after March 2008), however if a traffic offence involves injury and/or significant property damage then the case will be referred to the courts and a judge will decide the penalty. After some time in Dubai, driving around, it will become apparent which rules are important to adhere to. For example

  • Driving through a red light will cost 500 dhs (possibly 1500 dhs) if flashed by traffic light camera, and probably a long conversation at the police station if seen by a policeman. If it's a second or greater offence, you may end up in jail and/or have your car impounded.
  • Driving through a stop sign without stopping is normal behaviour (but most people do slow down and look).
  • Ignoring speed limits is unlikely to get you pulled over by the police unless you are going significantly faster than the rest of the traffic. The number of radars being installed is increasing substantially so expect to collect a few speeding fines.
  • Parking - where there are meters, you'll be likely to get a ticket if you don't use one (100-200 dhs per ticket vs 1-2 dhs per hour parking fee). Pay them when renewing car registration (the demand to pay within 7 days isn't enforced in our experience).
  • Safety Belts - wasn't law until around 1996. Doesn't seem to be policed very heavily (but you're mad if you don't wear one).
  • Child safety seats - whether or not it's law, most people don't bother - or maybe it's just more noticeable when they're not used because of the shock value. You'll see children lying on the parcel shelf, standing on or between seats, sitting on the driver's lap (while driving!), and hanging out windows.
  • Drinking and driving - limit is zero, consequences of being caught are usually jail time and financial pain. Chances of being caught are very high if you have an accident.
  • Mobile phones - law says use a hands-free kit while driving. Occasionally policed heavily (when law was introduced for example) but most of the time not. You'll sometimes see policemen using mobile phones without a handsfree kit.
  • Indicators - are rarely used, lane changing is often done suddenly and at speed. If there is a penalty, it's probably only applied if an accident can be blamed on your manoeuvre.
  • Driving on hard shoulder or to the left of the innermost lane on highways (when there's room). This used to be quite common many years ago (when extra lanes weren't needed anyway) but is now treated fairly seriously. Expect a big fine and possible car impounding if caught - police are much less likely to ignore this offence compared to speeding or using a mobile phone.
  • Driving without a licence - that's a big deal if you get caught. Don't ever do it. Expect to at least get your car impounded if caught. Don't let someone else drive your car if they don't have a licence - you'll be in trouble as well as them. International Driving Permits and overseas driving licences are not valid for residents driving private cars in the UAE, and probably not for tourists and visitors either.
  • Following at a safe distance - the rule seems to be "as long as you're not touching the car in front".
  • Overtaking - if there is a rule saying don't overtake on the right (like the left in UK etc) then no one ever takes any notice. European (not UK) drivers especially will find this quite irritating.
  • Pedestrian crossings - are mostly ignored unless they come with traffic lights. It's rare to see one anyway. If you're a pedestrian, consider catching a taxi to the other side of the road.
  • Using your horn - quite common, especially by taxi drivers behind you when traffic lights turn green.
  • Flashing headlights at someone - acceptable and common if the flasher has more wasta (see below) than the flashee. If the level of wasta is reversed, then the flasher may have problems.
  • Making hand gestures or swearing - don't (see below).
Obscene hand gestures while driving in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and UAE
  • If you are seen or heard making rude hand gestures (while driving or anywhere else) then you're potentially in a lot of trouble. Drivers have ended up in prison for "making an obscene hand gesture" so keep those one and two fingered salutes to yourself. There have been several court cases each year resulting in jail sentences for convicted offenders (which often also means loss of job and possibly deportation.
  • Typical anecdotal stories told around the expat campfires on cold winter nights are along the lines of something like this: a couple of drivers get into a bit of road rage (often one is driving too slow in the fast lane in the opinion of another), one or the other or both get annoyed enough to take down details of the other driver and/or call the cops and/or make an obscence gesture. The stereotype or urban legend is that Emirati nationals are more likely to report Asian and European nationals for finger movements and more likely to be believed. However it might be possible that the first person to call in is more likely to be believed - our own first hand experience of calling in a bad driver trying to force us off the road for not getting out of his way was not ideal but could have been much worse given that the driver claimed to have a great deal of wasta - when we did stop he said something like "Look at my number plate, do you know who I am?" (we didn't know, and the number plate didn't say, it only had some numbers, although on reflection we suppose he might have been trying to tell us that his name was "Dubai"). After a period of time at the police station, we were sent away with a token flea in our ear for not indicating properly or something, and he was sent away apparently disappointed we had not been chucked in jail for slowing him down. Our suspicion is that being the first to call the police might have saved us from a longer stay at the local penitentiary.
  • Emiratis, Gulf Arabs, and other Arabs and Muslims, appear to find an obscence hand gesture much more offensive than Westerners (some of whom even routinely use one or two fingers as a friendly greeting or goodbye signal to mates, cobbers, buddies, or something - more likely in down-under countries where brains have been addled by eating too much vegemite). Which seems to explain why such an action is treated more harshly by the law, and why Arab drivers are probably more likely to report an offense.
  • In May 2011 a British surgeon from the King's College Hospital in London who was apparently invited to the the UAE by the US Cleveland Clinic discovered his hands had apparently insulted an Emirati immigration officer enough to prompt him to call the cops on the doctor, who detained him and charged him with public indecency. He was quoted by several newpapers as saying "The man was following us flashing his lights. I was trying to abide by the speed limit and couldn't move out of his way. I pulled over when I could but instead of overtaking us, he pulled up alongside, switched the inside light on, rolled down the window and drove in parallel with us for up to a minute. He was looking at me in an intimidating way - I was quite terrified. I raised both my hands to say, 'What do you want?' but he pulled back [to read the number plate] and then took off and turned right. He alleges I stuck a finger at him but I raised both hands. I am sure he must have seen them at an angle, and that was offensive to him." The Dubai police confiscated his passport which meant he could no longer stay in a hotel in Dubai, and could be stuck in the UAE for several months before the case is heard by the courts. Update August 2011: apparently he obtained his passport and left the UAE (a friend reportedly left their own passport instead to act as a guarantor), and newspaper reports in early August said that he was not going to return to the UAE for his trial - his wife reportedly said "He's decided he's not going to go back to Dubai. It's not a safe place to go." Update September 2011: He did not appear at a trial on 05 September 2011, nor at the next hearing on 12 September 2011 at the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours which acquitted him of all charges (somewhat surprisingly since a verdict of guilty is usually given when the accused doesn't turn up). The Presiding Judge, Rifaat Tolba Othman, reportedly said in the verdict sheet "The court deemed the evidence as uncertain and unconvincing. Based on the statements of the claimant and the suspect, it was obvious that the road where the incident happened could only accommodate one car on the lane. Hence when S.S. flashed the high beam, J.W. couldn't give way because of the nature of the one-lane road. The court considers that J.W. did not have any criminal intention. Besides, the court is convinced that J.W.'s education and social status would not allow him to stoop to this level of behaviour." Unknown what happened to his friend or his friend's passport.
  • In October or November 2010 a young Tunisian female journalist was sentenced by the Al Rahba Criminal Court of First Instance to a 6 month jail sentence followed by deportation after being charged with violating public decency rules in the UAE. She was jailed but bailed after 2 weeks. After an appeal, the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeal gave her a 6 month suspended jail sentence, but didn't lift the deportation order. A further appeal at the Court of Cassation resulted in the previous verdict being rejected and the case sent for retrial (held on 07 April 2011 with verdict to be issued on 17 April 2011). The case resulted from a complaint laid by an Emirati officer in the UAE Armed Forces from Fujairah along with one of his friends acting as a witness. He and his passenger friend reportedly told police he was driving when MH made an obscene gesture. She said she was typing in his car details to her mobile phone after "He started harassing me, showing me his mobile, tailgating my car and trying to pull me over to the side of the road." Her lawyer said at retrial "The lower courts erred in law in basing their decisions, which ruined the defendant's future, on hearsay." When she was invited by the police to come to the police station for questioning after the complaint was made, she says prosecutors never questioned her and the lower court did not allow her to offer a defence (The National 07 April 2011).
  • In December 2006 an American pastor was acquitted of a charge of flashing his middle finger.

In the experience of some people we have talked to (do not assume this is representative in any way of the majority or the norm), if you are accused of flashing a digit or two, a possible defence seems to be an acknowledgement of a movement of some sort but one intended to explain something, for example you just moved your arm to rest it on the door with the fingers of your hand touching the top of the window frame. It seems to be easier and/or preferable for police and the courts to accept a degree of error in interpretation than to figure out who is lying (someone invariably is in these sorts of cases). And if you're trying to explain to the cops an episode of road rage, it seems to be better to explain how you were trying to get out of the other driver's way because he (or sometimes she but not so often) seemed to be in a hurry and you thought he might have an emergency situation to deal with, rather than to try and explain how you thought he was a bad driver and was likely to kill himself or someone else.

There is a common gesture used in the UAE which does not appear to be illegal (but we're not 100% certain) and you will see it used quite often - the thumb touches the first two fingers as though holding a very small delicate teacup (with the other two fingers held adjacent and parallel to the first two), and then with all digits pointing skywards, the hand is gently shaken up and down. It is taken to mean "slow down", "calm down", "take it easy", "shway shway", or similar. If the hand is shaken more vigorously then that indicates a greater degree of agitation on the part of the shaker, which might in turn irritate the intended recipient. We don't recommend using this gesture since in our opinion it could be misinterpreted for something more offensive which might result in a time-consuming visit to the nearest police station.

  • There is some flexibility in applying road rules in Duba and having a bit of "wasta" certainly helps (more information moved to the wasta in Dubai page).
Speeding and Speeding Fines

Speeding fines were 200 dhs per camera flash until 01 Mar 2008 when fines increased to between AED 400 and AED 1,000. Fines are payable all together when you renew your car registration annually. This can be unpleasant as one mother discovered a few years ago after having gone too fast past the same camera every day for several months when dropping her children off at school. The bill was apparently more than the value of the car. Most residents will collect a handful of speeding fines during the course of the year without always being aware of them.

There is usually a tolerance of 10-20 kph built into the speed cameras. Most cars have speedometers that are deliberately set to read a slightly higher speed than you're actually doing. This is done by the manufacturer, it's not anything to do with traffic law in Dubai. If you put larger tyres on your car, the reading will drop though (you'll be driving faster than what the speedo says - which probably explains the unexpected flash aimed at my car recently).

  • Speed limit signs are usually posted just after a speed camera.
  • Note that cameras in Dubai take photos as you drive towards them, but in Abu Dhabi they take photos after you drive past.
  • Note also that it's not very nice to undertake (overtake in a lane to the right of another vehicle) someone driving slowly as they go past a speed radar. If you're over the speed limit, the camera is likely to go off and they'll possibly get the fine, especially if you're in a position relative to the car such that your vehicle doesn't appear on the speed camera photo.

General speed limits in UAE are (with some specific limits for certain roads):

  • 40 kph on small suburban streets
  • 60 or 80 kph on main roads (but not usually highways or motorways)
  • 70 kph on Jumeirah Beach Road (new since the improvements were completed in July 2006)
  • 100 or 120 kph on highways
  • 120-140 kph on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway. The 160 kph limit between Dubai and Abu Dhabi that was mentioned in the news in 2006 seemed to be urban legend, very few drivers exceed 140 kph past the speed cameras (up to February 2007 at least). Later reports indicated that the limit was 140 km/hr on the Abu Dhabi side of the Abu Dhabi-Dubai border with a 20 km/hr tolerance effectively allowing drivers to hit the ton. But after a second bad fog related accident involving over 100 cars in March 2011 (there was a 300 car pile-up at the same place in 2008), news reports announced that the limit would be reduced to 140 km/hr.
  • Al Khawaneej Road (from Dubai International Airport to Mirdiff) speed limit was reduced from 100 kph to 80 kph in Dec 2006.
  • Financial Center Road Upper Deck looks like a 100 kph road but limit is only 80 kph (in 2010 and 2011 at least).
Discounted traffic fines in Abu Dhabi and UAE

See also traffic fine discounts in UAE.

  • On 29 June 2010, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Interior, announced there would be a 50% discount on outstanding traffic fines in Abu Dhabi. The new rule or ministerial decree, law number 400/2010, would be in place indefinitely.
  • No discounts announced for Dubai or other emirates at the time. On 02 July 2010 Brigadier Gaith Hassan Al Za'abi, Director of Traffic Department, UAE Ministry of Interior said that traffic departments in emirates other than Abu Dhabi could give the 50% discount also. In the following months, other emirates did announce discounts of 30%-50%.
  • Abu Dhabi (and Al Ain, Gharbiya/Gharbia, Western Region) residents get the discount on Abu Dhabi traffic fines, so do residents of other emirates on their tickets collected in Abu Dhabi.
  • Unknown if the new law was anything to do with the Dubai Summer Surprises shopping festival happening from June to August 2010 in Dubai.
Updated speeding and speeding fine information (August 2006 - all points unconfirmed)
  • More than 160 kph might result in a reckless driving charge.
  • Up to 20 kph over the limit gets you a fine, more than 20 kph over the limit might get you a reckless driving charge as well as a fine.
  • Some modern speed radars do not flash when taking a photo (unknown if any like this are in Dubai).
  • Urban legend has it that above certain speeds, you're going too fast to be caught by the camera. Rumours were that this was 180 kph but tests done in the UK indicate speed needs to be well in excess of top speeds of almost all cars including high performance sports cars - a Bugatti Veyron, or the Batmobile might get away with it.
Fine checking and payment in Dubai
Traffic in Dubai and Traffic Jams

Up until about 2000, it was possible to drive almost anywhere in Dubai "in about 15 minutes". That's not quite true but it was rare to encounter a major traffic jam anywhere. Since then, the pace of growth has outstripped the pace of developing the road network, although the RTA (Road Transport Authority) are trying to get new roads built faster than probably anywhere else in the world. As of mid-2006 the number of cars registered in Dubai is well over 600,000 - most of them seem to be parked on the Garhoud or Maktoum bridges. The resulting traffic jams have replaced the subject of mobile phones in cinemas as prime time dinner conversation amongst the drivers in Dubai. The worst places are the Sharjah-Dubai highway, the Sheikh Zayed Road - especially from Defense Roundabout to the Garhood Bridge and Maktoom Bridge, the Shindagha Tunnel, anywhere in Deira or Al Mankhool in Bur Dubai, and the Emirates Road and Al Wasl Road during rush hours. A short trip involving one of these roads can easily take more than an hour, and longer if there's been an accident (even minor accidents tend to create major jams).

Peak traffic conditions in Dubai are from about 0700-1000 and 1700-2100. The hours of 1230-1400 and 1500-1630 are also congested with all those lucky split shift employees taking advantage of their relaxing mid afternoon siesta time.

It is possible to commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Fujeirah, or Ras Al Khaimah (about 100-150 kms) quicker than it is to drive across Dubai if your work and residence locations are at opposite ends. While Dubai continues to grow at such a rapid pace, these traffic problems are not going to go away. The metro (or subway - although it's mostly above ground) public transport system is not due to start up until about 2009. If you're thinking about where to live, choose somewhere close to where you are likely to drive to the most - work/school/social activities.

Road Tolls in Dubai

In November 2006 it was announced that road tolls would be implemented from July 2007 on Sheikh Zayed Road (from the fourth interchange - Mall of the Emirates) and the Garhoud Bridge. There was a previous proposal to implement a toll on any vehicle entering Dubai from other emirates but it looks like that's been dumped in favor of the newer scheme. See the Salik road toll page for more information.

Road Rage in Dubai

It happens. Especially as the traffic builds, there are more traffic jams and then there are more frustrated drivers in Dubai. That, combined with the variety of nationalities bringing their own varied driving habits, and the relatively aggressive driving style that seems to rule in Dubai, means that potential for road rage is there. The most common version seems to be someone in the left-most lane of Sheikh Zayed road getting harrassed by someone behind them wanting to go faster with flashing headlights to indicate they should move over. Usually either the one in front moves or the one behind overtakes on the right and everyone is sort of content. Sometimes, depending on the temperature of one or both drivers, things can get a little more excited. If you're being harrassed persistently, try phoning the police - they have their Al Ameen service (800-4-888) and the report-a-dangerous-driver number (800 4 353). Or tel 999 if it's an emergency. A high-wasta driver will probably be able to overrule your complaint though.

Women (especially those with blond hair) might find they get more than their fair share of unwanted attention from some male drivers. Usually it's an irritation rather than anything like serious road rage. Ignoring them is probably the best and easiest thing to do. If you're feeling particularly threatened, you could try calling the Dubai Police Al Ameen service tel 800-4-888 (8004888), which is intended to help build a safer, more peaceful Dubai. Or something like that. Another number to try is the Dubai Police report-a-dangerous-driver number, tel 800-4-353 (8004353).

Most residents of Dubai will have a selection of road rage stories to share with each other over a coffee or at a dinner party.

Road rage stories in the UAE
  • 13 July 2010 - an Emirati soldier was charged with assault after punching a Jordanian clerk in the head, breaking three of his teeth. The Jordanian driver didn't give way when the Emirati was flashing his lights behind him on Emirates Road (03 February 2010 reports).
  • 30 May 2008 - a Scottish woman died outside the Aviation Club in Garhoud, Dubai, when an Emirati reversed his Hummer SUV over her. The Scottish lady was in a group, including her husband, who were alighting from a taxi that had stopped. News reports said that according to the taxi group and other witnesses, the Hummer driver was annoyed at being delayed by the stationary taxi, there was (possibly) an argument, and the Hummer driver then drove at the group (twice), hitting 3 (allegedly) of the taxi passengers. The woman reportedly died on the way to hospital, the other two were injured but survived. The other side of the story according to a Gulf News report on 21 August 2008 was that The suspect claimed, during investigations, he could not avoid hitting the cab which had stopped in the right lane... he alleged when he rammed the taxi and went on the pavement a number of Europeans walked towards him and yelled at him ... he claimed he got frightened and drove away not noticing and unaware he had mowed down a woman, said the police captain. At a trial at the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance on 12 November 2008, the Hummer driver was accused of premeditated murder, however, his lawyer, Abdelmonem or Abdelmenem Suwaidan (Abdel Monem bin Suwaidan), reportedly said that "My client only intended to scare the victim and her group; he had no intention to kill anyone, ... A crime was committed, but it was nowhere as ugly as the prosecution has made it out to be." On 27 November 2008, the Dubai Court of First Instance gave the Hummer driver a 10 year jail sentence. Judge Abdelmajid al Nizami reportedly said (The National 27 November 2008) "It was clear that the defendant was acting in a moment of anger and loss of control and thus the court rules out the presence of any element of premeditation." The Dubai Appeal Court hearing on 01 May 2009 reduced the sentence to 7 years.
Parking and Car Parks in Dubai
  • Car parks belonging to hotels, shopping centers, supermarkets etc are almost always free. And often full. There are occasionally some that require payment eg Carrefour Shindagha (but you get a refund from Carrefour) and the Al Khaleej Centre in Bur Dubai.
  • Sandy areas that look deserted and convenient for parking your car in, can be expensive. There were reports in October 2007 that the Dubai Municipality had started fining cars parked in the sand.
  • Road side parking, and off-street public car parks are usually 1 or 2 dhs per hour. Check the hours that paid parking applies. Usually they're free from 1300-1600, Fridays and public holidays. Some have extended paid times up until 2100 (9pm).
  • Look for the orange solar powered ticket dispensers to obtain your parking ticket. If you go somewhere else, you can use it again if it hasn't expired. And you're not using a 1 dh/hour ticket in a 2 dh/hour zone.
  • Parking fines cost 150 dhs and normally it's fine (no pun intended) to pay them when you go for your annual car registration.
  • You can get Dubai Municipality issued parking cards to insert into the parking machines. They have a 30, 50 or 150 dhs value but cost less than that in grocery shops and service stations. The only time we bought and tried one, it didn't work. Keep some 1 dh coins in your car.
  • Season parking permits are available for 3, 6 or 12 month periods in two versions. Option A (700-2500 dhs) allows you to park anywhere, option B (450-1500 dhs) is restricted to a number of designated areas. Obtain the cards from the Al Twar (Al Tawar) branch of Dubai Municipality in Al Ghusais - in the Al Twar Centre opposite the Ministry of Education near Al Mulla Plaza. You should only need your car registration and a copy but bring other random bits of paper just in case eg passport, driver's license, last weeks grocery bill.
Non-residents and tourists driving in Dubai

If you have an international driving licence from another country (not always necessary) and do not have a residence permit, then you can drive a rental car in Dubai (actually you can rent a car if you have a residence permit too but the point was that you don't need to get a temporary Dubai driving licence from Dubai Police to drive a rental car as a tourist). See the Dubai car hire page for more information.

Do not drive a private car until you verify that you can - you will need a temporary licence from the police. Bring IDP (International Driving Permit or License), home country licence and a couple of hundred dhs. Also check with the insurance company that the car is insured while you drive it.

When you get a residence permit, you must get a Dubai driving licence. You're no longer allowed to drive with a foreign license, IDP or temporary Dubai licence.

Accidents and emergencies when driving in Dubai

If you have an accident or emergency in Dubai and the UAE, tel 999 for police, 998/999 for ambulance, 997 for fire/civil defence.

Note that from a mobile phone you can also try dialing 112. It's supposed to connect you to local emergency services wherever you are in the world whether or not you have a SIM card/connection (may not work in all countries, and sometimes phones will need a SIM card - but even an expired one might work). Contrary to urban legend, it does not connect to satellite or magically connect to anything if there's no signal (eg in a tunnel).

There is an attempt to provide a common system worldwide for calling an emergency contact for someone in distress. If they are aware of this system, they will have programmed their mobile phone with ICE in front of the name of someone important to call if they're in trouble. For several contacts, they'll be listed as 1ICE, 2ICE, 3ICE or ICE1, ICE2, ICE3 etc (ICE meaning In Case of Emergency). Ignore the hoax emails warning you about getting a virus via ICE contacts - they're not true.

It's very easy to have a car accident in Dubai - as you'll see, but hopefully not from personal experience. The Dubai Police have been requesting that people involved in minor accidents should park their cars in such a way so as not to obstruct traffic, then swap details and go to the nearest police station. Whilst that sounds quite sensible in theory, in practice it doesn't seem to work. With the different nationalities and driving habits, and possible language and communication difficulties, it's all too easy to end up in a heated discussion either on site or at the police station with the final judgement from the police appearing to be quite random.

The following is not advice (since it is opposite to what the police say you should do) but an idea. Consider staying put, phone the police and wait for them to arrive. They will make a judgement then (which might appear to be random anyway) and may give you a fine of a couple of hundred dhs for not moving. This (apart from the fine) was the standard way of doing things until recently and so residents and police are used to that system. In fact, in the past, if you had moved your car, the police would request you put it back where it was when the accident happened (even to the extent of putting a car back in the ocean on a boat ramp or a long way out in the desert - both situations apparently true). Alternatively, you could just phone the police before moving cars and ask them what to do.

Whatever happens, if you have a camera, take some photos before moving the vehicles, but don't photograph Emirati women.

The police in Dubai generally speak some English (standard will vary). There are usually two in attendance. Most of the time things will get resolved amicably and the police will be quite helpful and friendly (you're bound to hear stories of exceptions though). You could be waiting for hours rather than minutes for them to arrive if it's a minor accident.

The normal procedure is that the police make a judgement regarding fault and write a report on the spot. A pink copy will be given to the person they consider at fault, and a green copy to the person not at fault (the colors are reversed in Sharjah, not surprisingly). You give this and your damaged car to the insurance company.

If you hit a stationary object, or something without a driver hits you, call the police and wait there. If you're tempted just to drive away, remember that getting a repair done is almost impossible without the accident report. Workshops run the risk of severe penalties if they repair a car without the police report - and the police do check.

The Gulf News during 2006 was publishing a weekly photo and article to highlight the "accident of the week" (there were no prizes even though many residents wondered if it was a competition). A rather bizarre way to promote road safety.

If there are injuries, the police and medical personnel will sort it out. If someone dies and you're deemed to be responsible, you'll have to pay 200,000 dhs "diya" or "blood money" to the family of the victim. Your insurance company should pay this (unless you've been drinking or taken drugs in Dubai or something else that negates your insurance).

If you see an accident, you could stop and offer to act as a witness. Depending on the wasta levels of you and the accident participants though, it's possible that you become one of the causes of the accident. If there are injured people and you decide to assist, be aware that if one of the victims dies and you were the last person to touch them, you will probably be held (in jail) responsible for their death. At least until it is clear that you did not cause the death, which may take days.

Car theft in Dubai, stealing cars in Dubai
  • It's relatively rare for a car to be stolen in Dubai. Usually someone steals a car only when driver has left it unlocked with keys in ignition (sometimes with motor running - especially in summer to keep it cool while going in to shop, bank etc). Police figures were 115 cars stolen in this way in 2006, up to 150 cars in 2007, prompting them to issue a 300 dh fine to people who leave their cars running while unattended (about 2000 got hit by a fine in 2007, unknown if this includes the 150 who had their car stolen). Police claim to have a good recovery rate for stolen vehicles.
  • Update 24 May 2010 (Gulf News report): As of May 2010, 9 cars with engines left running were stolen, of which 5 were recovered. In 2009, 64 cars with engines running were stolen and all were recovered. In 2008, 40 cars with engines running were stolen and 35 were recovered.
  • Belongings are usually safe if locked in a car although you do occasionally hear of cars being broken in to - more than likely because computer or phone or money was visible. It seems as though this is on the increase during 2006 (or perhaps it's just being reported more) with, for example, a story in Aug/Sep 2006 of car windows being broken and items taken from gloveboxes while owners were attending a church service. Another report of a resident in Jumeirah finding his car blocked and the wheels taken in October 2006 was something new for Dubai.
  • In Sharjah in 2009, there were 176 complaints about theft from cars according to a Gulf News report 03 May 2010 of comments by a Sharjah CID official.
  • Update September 2011 - there have been news reports of car windows being smashed and belongings stolen from parked vehicles in Abu Dhabi.
  • There was a report in the Gulf Today 08 September 2011 about thieves in Dubai luring people into cars, then driving to a remote area and robbing them. The report did not say how the thieves managed to get their victims into cars in the first place.
  • Petrol stations are a spot where thefts sometimes happen since many people leave their cars unlocked/running while filling up and/or going into petrol station shop.
  • There doesn't appear to be any or much in the way of organised car theft of expensive cars for re-export/conversion/selling as spare parts (as happens in the UK/US/Europe). Thus another reason for making Dubai an attractive place in which to indulge yourself and buy that posh car you'd never own in your home country.
  • Cars do sometimes get stolen when sold - the buyer gives the seller a personal cheque that bounces. A bank check should be safe.
  • Stealing a car is far more likely to land you in jail followed by deportation than having a limb chopped off (despite common foreign perception of the punishment for theft in Dubai).
Motorcycles - Motorbikes
  • Unpleasantly hot in summer (air temperature over 40 C and high humidity).
  • Not so common so other road users aren't used to seeing motorcyclists - assume Dubai is a city full of Volvo drivers.
  • Great for getting through traffic jams though.
Bicycles - Cyclists

See also bicycles in Dubai.

  • Dangers of cycling in Dubai and the UAE are generally to do with the hot weather, and other vehicle drivers either not being aware that cyclists use the roads also, or being aware but thinking that cyclists should always get out of the way or don't belong on the roads.
  • Cycling is not permitted on main highways for example the Emirates Rd, Sheikh Zayed Road. Possibly also banned on major roads but that might depend on the mood of the policeman who sees you. It's risky anyway with car and truck drivers not usually being very considerate towards cyclists.
  • Summer heat makes cycling at that time of the year very unpleasant, even dangerous to your health, especially during the day. Drink lots of water.
  • Dubai is beginning to develop a cycle path network from around 2010. Or at least thinking about it - The RTA did a study in May 2006 with plans to develop comprehensive cycling network in Dubai. As of 2013 there are a handful of cycle paths, not connected to each other, and a cycle park at Nad Al Sheba where cyclists, joggers, roller bladers, can go around in circles without being attacked by motorised transport. From Arabian Ranches to Bab Al Shams is a long cycle path through the desert with nice views of sand. Another bicycle path runs along Jumeirah Beach Road sort of from the UAE Flag at Union House to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, but with a few obstacles along the way - bus stops, parked cars, cafes with outdoor seating, lamp posts, etc. Some metro stations have bicycle racks.
  • Sharjah - Bicycles were banned in Sharjah from April 2006. Exceptions are children, commuters, delivery men, and cyclists who stay off the roads.
  • Ras Al Khaimah rules say that females are not allowed to cycle there - according to information received from one female resident.
Last update Saturday 07-Jun-2014
Related pages
  • Driving in Dubai forum topic - add comments, questions about driving in Dubai.
  • Dubai Bypass Road - also known as the 611 road. Renamed as the Emirates Rd, and the Emirates Rd (311 Rd) was renamed as the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Rd.
  • Dubai Code of Conduct driving rules - the official instructions about how to drive in Dubai with respect for fellow motorists.
  • Dubai Police
  • Maps of Dubai - guide to the best maps of Dubai, how up to date the maps are, where to get them, and a list of GPS/navigations systems for Dubai and the UAE.
  • Roads and Transport Authority Dubai (RTA) - Dubai Government body looking after roads and traffic in Dubai.
Related websites (new window)
  • Gulf News Traffic Watch section (archive.gulfnews.com/indepth/trafficwatch/ - error, not found, 15 October 2009), a well organised collection of articles about traffic, driving, road safety, speed cameras, etc.
  • www.alameen.ae - Al Ameen website, Dubai Police safer communities service, sms 4444, tel 800-4888, email alameen@eim.ae


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