UAE parents “gobsmacked” at reckless driving behaviour around school gates
UAE parents have told SchoolsCompared.com of their outrage at the reckless driving behaviour that some parents display outside the school gates.
“I am absolutely appalled by how some parents act at school pick-ups,” says Rachael Salahat, an American mother of twins who lives in Abu Dhabi. “I’ve reported parents on the police app for blocking entrances, triple parking their cars, pulling in the wrong way, parking in handicapped spots without justification. I’ve talked to the school many times over the issue, but nothing ever gets fixed.”
“It makes my blood boil,” agrees Australian event planner Chelsea*, whose children attend school close to The Meadows area of Dubai. “It’s the arrogance that makes me frustrated. If children are meant to learn from their parents’ behaviour then I can’t imagine what these kids are like in the classroom.”
“Only a few weeks ago a mother entered my children’s school’s car park through the only exit, driving against traffic,” says Taghred Chandab, a Lebanese/ Australian writer and mother, whose four daughters go to school in Dubai. “I was absolutely gobsmacked when I saw it. I just couldn’t believe she would endanger the lives of students and motorists coming in the opposite direction. This is the type of stupidity and recklessness we are dealing with.”
Making a change before it’s too late
The tragic death of a five-year-old boy this week, who according to reports was hit and killed by a car as he crossed the road to his school in Fujairah on 24 October 2021, has been a deeply sad wake-up call for many parents and school leaders.
Colonel Saleh Mohammad Abdullah Al Dhanhani, Director of the Traffic and Patrols Department at the General Command of Fujairah Police, told Gulf News that the child crossed the road alone, without any help from an adult. “The driver failed to pay attention to the road, while the parent’s negligence led to the child crossing the road,” reported The National.
“It’s always heart-breaking to hear of the unnecessary death of a child,” Dubai mum Chelsea told SchoolsCompared.com. “Drivers need to be more accountable when driving in school zones. Arrogance and inconsiderate driving have no place on the roads.”
“Unfortunately, we experience a lot of bad behaviour around schools when it comes to picking up or dropping kids,” says Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE. “We as parents, motorists and road users must display the safest driving behaviour, and road behaviour around schools. It is about being role models for our children.”
Why would parents put children at risk?
One of the most perplexing aspects of the issue of road safety around schools is that the reckless drivers putting little children at risk are usually parents themselves.
As parents they are aware of the vulnerability of children, so why aren’t they taking more care?
Dubai-based mum and author Taghred Chandab has one explanation: “We’re talking about arrogant, selfish people who feel entitled… until a child is injured.”
Taghred says she witnesses reckless driving or parking behaviour outside her children’s school every day. “I wait patiently in the queue at the ‘kiss & drop-off’ each morning, and rather than joining the queue, parents or drivers pull-up, push-in and park in the first lane at the lights, let their young kids out, and then expect them to walk through the drop-off bay. I’ve had to stop suddenly several times as a child runs out in front of my car alone. What is the rush? What is so important that parents/drivers have to get to, which means neglecting their child’s safety? I know the school security speaks to parents but they just ignore them because the security guards have absolutely no authority.”
Matthew Tompkins, Principal/ CEO of GEMS FirstPoint School in The Villa believes that parents can often behave uncharacteristically when behind the wheel of a car: “Heavy traffic can cause people to become agitated and lead them to act in ways they wouldn’t under normal circumstances,” he says.
GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi Principal Catherine Erpen agrees: “I would suggest that reckless driving and any unsafe behaviours in general reflect anxiety or stress of some kind. Parents might be rushing to get to work or to an appointment. It’s also possible that they may not have slept well or eaten – we never know what is really going on in someone’s life.”
Ben Rothwell, Deputy Headteacher of Victory Heights Academy can also empathise with the problems facing parents. “We recognise it is frustrating, and we do everything in our power to make the drop off process as smooth as possible – but in saying that, we cannot tolerate behaviours that put any of our community at risk.”
What schools are doing to help
Many UAE schools are taking a proactive approach to road safety. Mark Leppard, Headmaster of The British School Al Khubairat, told SchoolsCompared.com that they have been running a comprehensive road safety campaign for the past two years. “What happens outside of our school gates on a public road legally isn’t our responsibility, but we feel we have a moral responsibility to do something,” says Leppard. Held in collaboration with parents and other members of the school community, their road safety initiative launched with multiple workshops aimed not just at parents, but also drivers and nannies, in multiple languages so that there was no room for miscommunication in delivering the messages.
In addition, the school gives all their staff training on how to deal with traffic properly, always maintains a high level of Senior Leadership Team presence on the school gates at busy periods, and has worked closely with the Department of Transport to change one of the two-way streets outside the school to a one-way street. They’ve even requested a police presence to fine people driving or parking dangerously: “We make no apology for that,” says Leppard, “there needs to be a lesson of some sort.”
Consistency is key, Leppard adds, saying that the situation tends to get worse after school holidays, when new families who are unaware of the rules join the school, so constant reminders are necessary.
Educating through stories
Another school taking road safety seriously is GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi. Principal Catherine Erpen says: “Some parents will choose convenience over safety; instead of parking safely and walking children carefully to the entrance, parents stop their car in the middle of the road and have children get out with other moving vehicles nearby.” The school combats this by having a large number of staff at the gate each morning: “We actively direct parents when parking and assist students whenever needed to ensure they are safe. We send reminders to parents when needed and also teach our students about road safety. This has been quite effective.”
Gems World Academy – Abu Dhabi has also created a more flexible drop-off time window in order to try to ease congestion, and uses different gates for different age groups at pick-up times. “This is incredibly smooth and has helped a lot,” says Erpen. “In addition, ensuring a large number of staff are available to assist is beneficial, too.”
Regular reminders always help, but the most powerful messages are delivered through stories, says Erpen. “We are engaged and connected through real-life illustrations. This is always quite effective.”
Educating children on how to help keep themselves safe is also constructive, adds Erpen: “The best way to help them learn is through authentic experiences, in which the risks are highlighted and children are taught how to behave. It is important that they are able to recognise potential danger and can respond safely. We teach our students to be independent, to think for themselves and solve problems. Presenting scenarios to children can help prepare them before they practice with their parents in a real-life situation.”
Perhaps the most effective solution, which is not usually possible for most schools, is to be purpose built with road safety in mind from the start. Erpen’s school is lucky enough to be able to do this: “We will soon be moving to a brand-new campus on Reem Island, where road traffic and parking have been carefully considered to avoid such issues and ensure the health and safety of our community.”
Is it worth risking anyone’s life for 50 seconds?
Ben Rothwell, Deputy Headteacher at Victory Heights Primary School, says that they witness several different kinds of reckless driving behaviour close to their campus, the majority of which is totally avoidable. Speeding around the school site is one of the biggest problems:
“In general, speeders seem to have very little recognition of the actual time saved by driving at excess speed,” he says. “Driving the 1km to exit Sports City from our school at 50km/h as opposed to 30km/h saves you approximately 50 seconds. Is it worth risking anyone’s life for 50 seconds?”
The school regularly communicates the difficulties they face through the weekly newsletter, although Rothwell says this rarely has much of an impact. “Quite simply, the drivers who are the most reckless, fail to recognise that their own behaviour is reckless, and so the message has no impact on them. Drivers who behave in a sensible manner around the school (and beyond) – see our message, agree with it, thank us for putting the message out – but ultimately, as their behaviour does not need changing – this has no impact either.”
Sometimes, the only way to get the message across is to be hard-hitting:
“Most recently, after observing two extremely poor bits of driving, I decided to publish my own, straight-talking message to the parent community.” Rothwell’s video message, published on the school’s social media, stated in a very frank way the importance of road safety, and the grave risks at stake.
“The feedback we have received on this has been incredible, and parents have thanked me at the gate for speaking out,” says Rothwell. “It is too early to say whether this has any long-term impact – but we are crossing our fingers and toes.”
Pressure points and solutions
There’s no doubt that drop-off and pick up times around schools can be stressful, with early school timings, work pressures and heavy traffic combining to raise parents’ blood pressure. “I think parents would be lying if they said school run traffic never added to their stress levels,” says Natasha Bajaj, Indian entrepreneur and author of children’s book ‘Hing-Lish’.
Natasha believes schools should give out traffic behaviour cards to students to encourage positive driving behaviours. “The children of parents who park nicely should get a smiley traffic card. That way parents would be influenced by their own kids to be responsible and take of their driving and parking.”
Many parents told us that the previous staggered school timings that were required for COVID regulations had a positive impact on traffic, and they wish they could be brought back.
Others said that the cost of school buses should be made more affordable to enable a higher uptake of public transport and fewer cars on the road, while others said that transport authorities and the police should also get involved. SchoolsCompared.com contacted Dubai’s Road Transport Authority and the Dubai Police but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
“Schools need to start requesting a police presence because parents don’t seem to respect teachers or security staff manning the drop-off areas,” says mother Taghred Chandab. “A child’s life depends on it. We also need an education program, and schools should report reckless drivers to police. This needs to be circulated to parents as a warning. There needs to be a zero-tolerance approach to it.”
No excuses for endangering children
Like most of the parents we spoke to, Taghred has little patience for the ‘stress’ excuse of many reckless drivers. “It’s only stressful if you don’t organise your time. My girls are out the door at 7am every morning. We arrive at the school at 7.11am and they walk through the gates between 7.15 – 7.20am depending on the drop-off queue. At pick-up time, I arrive at the school 45-minutes early, and I park in the carpark. I take any work calls in the car if needed and use the time to check emails. I have staggered pick-ups so I have to wait around for my older kids, who finish 20 minutes after my youngest. You plan your time and your journey to ensure your child’s safety.”
The overall message? Slow down. “Stop rushing,” says Taghred. “Your meeting can wait and so can that gym session. Your child’s safety depends on you being calm.”
“When you get in your car, realise you have the keys to a fast moving, very heavy, killing machine,” points out Ben Rothwell of Victory Heights Primary School. “Human bodies are no match for cars travelling even at low speeds. You have the same level of responsibility at the wheel as if you were handling a loaded gun. And much like you wouldn’t wave a loaded gun around recklessly, you should ensure that whenever you are driving, you act appropriately.
“We have seen schools in the UAE experience tragedy at the hands of reckless drivers before. There should be absolutely no excuse for it to happen again.”
How to be safe around schools
- Be extra alert and careful when you are driving close to schools, kindergartens and universities!
- We might experience a lot of traffic around schools, especially in the mornings and early afternoons.
- Watch out for extra traffic guidance and follow the directions of school staff, traffic guides or police!
- Drivers dropping or collecting kids must not obstruct traffic:
- Care for other motorists like you want to be cared for!
- Park your vehicle safely and even if a few steps away from the school – a few steps are good for you and your kids!
- Don’t park in non dedicated areas or in the 2nd lane
- Parents to be disciplined with our time management and leave early (regular traffic delays around schools)!
- Parents dropping or collecting kids, should guide them and/or give them safety instructions to reach the school/your vehicle safely.
- Kids are learning from their parents, so be a role model for road safety, especially around schools!
- Parents must educate their kids about proper road safety conduct around schools, and in general.
- If you have improvement proposals for your school, engage with the school administration to articulate those.
Information from RoadsafetyUAE.com.
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