The UAE is, in many ways, like the USA. It's a collection of 7 emirates (similar to our states) bound together by a federal government. Emiratis also love cars as much, or perhaps more than, the typical American.
These are my first hand observations on cars and driving in the UAE as a lowly student traveler.
(Full Disclosure: Jalopnik wanted me to visit the UAE so badly that they let me stop writing QOTD and Morning Would for a month so I could use my own money to go there and take a class with my university.)
Always Wear Your Seatbelt In A Taxi
- Everybody, everywhere, over the entire world, no matter what they look like or what language they speak, loves to stare at a car accident. I noticed this on my first day in Abu Dhabi, when I joined a crowd staring at a taxi/van/motorcyclist? (unclear at this point in the cleanup) wreck at a major intersection. Yes, yes, accidents are horrible (I know) but there's no denying it's human nature to try and figure out what happened. Maybe if we could just have one giant car accident on the moon, so that everybody could see it, we could all be friends. But that's beside the point.
The point is, always wear your seatbelt. Later during my trip, a group of friends and I tried to hail a cab outside of the Hilton. We succeeded, and were about a half second away from stepping into said cab when a bus nailed it into one of those concrete poles that prevent you from driving on the sidewalk. The pole was very successful in preventing sidewalk access.
Now, in this case a seatbelt wouldn't have helped, since we weren't yet in the cab. But it was a jarring reminder that, even in the back of a taxi, one should always buckle up. Especially in the UAE, because the driving style is most charitably described as insane. Does this look like a safe following distance for about 70 miles per hour? No, it does not.
But it's not at all uncommon to see driving like this (and worse). It's like everybody there thinks they own a BMW or something.
You suck at karting
- I was thrilled to go karting for the first time in my life (or really automotive racing of any kind, one of the myriad downsides of having a non-enthusiast family) at Al Forsan Sports City in Abu Dhabi. I was less thrilled, however, when the results showed that I had been trounced by what appeared to be a group of four 12 year olds. While I have serious doubts about how the rankings were produced (I'm working on my racing driver excuses for my future career), the fact is that these kids were good. Like, they had practiced and been there multiple times good, good enough to beat people who actually have a license to drive. In fact, they were so good that I'm convinced they lived in the housing development near Al Forsan and came to the track daily. I mean, that's the only way they could have beaten me, right?
Land Cruisers are the Camrys of the UAE
- And Camrys are the Crown Victoria's (aka taxis).
There are medians on almost every road
- Regardless of size. Perhaps this is designed to curb the insane driving styles? Perhaps. Whatever it's for, it often means you must drive past your destination in order to reach it, and U-turns are a fact of life. So much so that tunnels are built specifically for them.
Not all the cars are tacky
- Despite what teh interwebz may have led you to believe, not every car in Dubai (or the rest of the UAE) is covered in gold, or chrome, or whale penis leather. While these exist (as they do everywhere), mostly you just see Emiratis driving unmolested expensive cars. (Which makes sense, since if they choose to work, their starting salary is about $120,000 per year.)
Does your local parking lot not feature a Cayenne Turbo, an SLS, and a Range Rover I hadn't even realized was on sale yet?
The license plates are pretty, in a minimalist sort of way
That's just, like, my opinion, man.
- I'm happy to answer them in Kinja. Obviously, 2 weeks isn't enough time to really get to know and understand a culture, but if you've got any pressing superficial questions on automobiles in a petrostate, fire away.
Photo Credit: Cover: Jun Wakabayashi; all others: Thomas McIntyre