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Driving in Dubai

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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.

Summary and contents

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.

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
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.

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

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):

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      

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?

News and updates about driving in the UAE
Abu Dhabi speed limit changes - 06 August 2012
Emirati drivers in the UAE - 25 January 2011
05 April 2011 - new speed limit on Abu Dhabi Dubai highway
03 January 2011 - new speed limits in Abu Dhabi
19 October 2009 - speed limit reductions for taxis, buses, trucks
Worst drivers in Dubai - 29 January 2009
Previous updates on traffic regulations and other driving issues in Dubai

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

Obscene hand gestures while driving in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and UAE

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.

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).

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

Discounted traffic fines in Abu Dhabi and UAE

See also traffic fine discounts in UAE.

Updated speeding and speeding fine information (August 2006 - all points unconfirmed)
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
Parking and Car Parks in Dubai
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
Motorcycles - Motorbikes
Bicycles - Cyclists

Bicycles in Dubai - main page.

Last update Saturday 07-Jun-2014
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