Here's what to expect while driving in Dubai, and how to cope with some situations.
30 July 2013| Last updated on 13 August 2017
We've all had that day when our time has come to venture out onto Dubai's roads... Which can seem a daunting task if you are not used to fast and large roads.
Staying calm at all times despite erratic driving of others has to be number one. This is easier said than done. There are some very erratic driving styles on the roads that need to be avoided/ coped with.
Here's our top tips on driving in Dubai and what to expect on the roads- the good, the bad and the ugly- and how to stay calm and safe whilst behind the wheel in Dubai.
Many drivers do not keep a safe distance - don’t be tempted to join them! Remember the three second rule – always stay three seconds behind the car in front. This adjusts for speed. You will find that you have left a safe space and someone else will sneak in and fill it- it's going to be up to you to pull back a bit to maintain the safe space again.
There are many crashes on Dubai roads and traffic comes to a complete standstill usually on both sides of the roads- the gawpers on the other side cause tail backs there too. But remember, it's actually illegal to rubberneck in Dubai so take care not to gawp too long.
Cars with very dark windows will have very bad peripheral vision at night so make sure you allow for this. A lot of cars do not put their headlights on as the drivers believe if they can see the road that they don't need lights- not realising the lights are also so other drivers can see them! So watch out for people driving without lights too and always use your own.
Undertaking cars are, unfortunately, a fact of driving life here even though it is against the traffic rules law. When coming off the highway or roads beware the car that could be flying down your inside. Make sure you use all mirrors and check your blind spot before you change lane or pull off on a slip road.
You will see a lot of powerful cars on the roads here from giant 4x4s to the suped-up sporty numbers and some do like to go extremely fast... This has improved over the years as there are less cars doing this now than in the past- at some times the SZR used to seem like a race track but the introduction of more speed cameras and the lowering of the speed limit to 100 has really helped. Nonetheless, there will still be the odd speed freak who drives like they are on a computer game.
Our advice is to stay out of their way- you will see or hear them coming- pull over if it is safe to do so or keep a steady speed and let them manouevre round you.
5. Driving on the hard shoulder
If you have a flat tyre on the high way do not stand on the hard shoulder get behind the safety barrier- you see too many cars driving down the hard shoulder despite heavy fines for this offence. People usually do this to undertake a traffic jam or to just get where they are going quicker! On a positive note- if you do have a flat tyre, especially as a woman, you will often find cars will stop and help you out which is a lovely thing.
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6. Headlight flashing
Flashing your headlights generally does not mean a polite “after you” – as in other countries. It generally means get out of the way I’m coming through ready or not. Sometimes this may be the police or an unmarked car and you are supposed to move out of their way. Generally it is impatient drivers using this technique. You can avoid this by staying out of the fast lane as much as possible and also using your rear mirror a lot- you will see the speed freaks coming and can move over before they get to the flashing headlights stage. If you can't move over it is imperative that you stay calm and don't panic, and move over only when it is safe to do so.
7. Lane discipline
This seems to be non- existent in driving on the roads here. People will violently veer from the fastlane to a junction off the road at a very late moment- be ready for this. All lanes are driven in and at various different speeds and you will see 120 plus being done in the "slow" lane and 80 in the "fast" lane! There is none of the usual this lane used for over taking, pull out of the slow lane to let incoming traffic merge rule being followed.
Stay as far away from the trucks as possible. They do not stop very quickly and cannot see you if you are alongside them or are immediately in front of them. The drivers are often very tired and travel huge distances across the Gulf. A lot of trucks have worn tyres and blow outs occur very frequently so be ready for those too.
Use of indicators here is very haphazard although the police do have crack downs- especially on the trucks so there has been some improvement. So don't rely on the fact that someone is indicating means they actually are going to move or that they are not moving if not indicating.
10. Wet or foggy weather
This occurs so infrequently that some people do not know what to do in these weather conditions- they will still speed excessively, drive with their hazard lights on giving you no indication if they are moving lane or turning off and using their full beam. Most cars here do not have fog lights as they are Gulf spec cars which does not help.
The best thing for you to do is to slow down, stay in the slow or second lane and go at your own pace. If visibility gets really poor i.e. during a sandstorm or fog patch sometimes it is safer to pull over- preferably into a garage and wait it out. If it rains very heavily most of the roads get flooded as the drainage system cannot cope- be careful of aquaplaning and if your journey is not urgent- stay home!
11. Road hazards
There are road hazards here that you may never have come across in your home country so do be careful! Camels and goats are quite often found on the roads outside of Dubai- you should always pay attention to the road ahead.
Slow right down if you see camels at the side of the road- they can move pretty quick and are very heavy and many people have died by hitting one or had a severely damaged car. If you kill a camel with your car you will also have to pay the owner blood money as camels are prized possessions here. You should try and warn other road users by using your hazard lights if slowing right down and also flashing your headlights at on coming traffic if you have passed a camel in the dark to give them a warning.
Also trucks and lorries can often shed or drop some of their loads- so there has been everything from tomatoes to microwave ovens littering the roads of Dubai at some points over the years- again just keep aware of the road ahead to give yourself enough time to react to anything on the road surface that shouldn't be there!
12. Hand gestures
Many hand gestures in the UAE are deemed highly offensive and are punishable by fines or prison sentences. Never be tempted to give the finger, the Vs, point or anything that could be misconstrued in any way. The same goes for swearing too- never ever swear at anyone in the UAE.
13. Mystery scratches and bumps
Unfortunately a lot of other drivers do not seem to have respect for other people's cars and you will end up with a few car door dints, trolley scratches and bumps in your fender or bumper- these mainly seem to occur in car parks. They are supposed to call the police and make a report but this very rarely happens. Try and park in less busy areas and pull your wing mirrors in.