Driving in the United Arab Emirates


Driving in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)



Rule of the Road

Traffic in The United Arab Emirates drives on the right side of the road, in common with other Middle East countries.



Statistics (year 2007 figures)


UK comparison

Annual fatalities



Registered motor vehicles



Motorisation rate, (motor vehicles / 1,000 population)



Fatality rate, (deaths / 10,000 motor vehicles)



Fatality risk, (road deaths / 100,000 population)



Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)



Fatalities / 1,000 km road



Road length, km



Paved roads, %



Road density, (road length km / land area km2)



Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)



Population density, (population / km2)





Statistics Summary

The UAE is a wealthy country, as shown by the motorisation rate. Population density is low, but vehicle density is the highest in the world. However, because many roads in the UAE are up to 6 lanes in each direction, density per lane kilometre will be rather lower than implied in absolute kilometres. And despite having an excellent road infrastructure, modern vehicles, good weather, the fatality rate, risk, and quotient are all very high figures.





Driving Environment

The UAE is located in the east of Arabia, along the southern shore of the Arabian Gulf. It consists of 7 independent states: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Al Fujayrah, Ra's al Khaymah, Ash Shariqah, and Umm al Qaywayn. The climate is hot dry desert, mostly very flat, with significant sand dunes in many areas outside the cities, and some mountains in the east. The road infrastructure is new and very well developed everywhere, there is a plethora of multilane roads, grade-separated junctions, and excellent driving conditions, although city traffic can become congested for many hours of the day.





Driver Behaviour

Speed limits on all roads are relatively high, and many drivers chose to drive even faster than the speed limit between the speed cameras. Rushing everywhere is a common problem. Driver distractions are a significant cause of problems, it is considered normal to drive with a cup of coffee in one hand, a fast-food takeaway in the other hand, and whilst using a mobile phone, simultaneously!






The vehicle stock of all vehicle types is very new, it is rare to see an older vehicle of any type. Many cars are of larger models, and large 4x4 are common. City buses are very modern low-floor versions of both 3-axle double decker, and articulated bendi-buses. School buses and workmen's buses are typically high-floor built on a truck chassis. Road trains comprising a semi-trailer, a dolly, and a second semi-trailer are sometimes used. Motorcycles are rare, except for pizza delivery.



Speed Limits

Speed is measured in km/h. Signage conforms to the ISO (European) system, and signs are prolific and well placed. Speed limit signs are dual language, with Arabic numbers above European numbers, separated by a horizontal black line.

Speed limits in the cities are typically higher than would be the case in Europe, e.g. many main roads within cities having speed limits of 120 km/h, many others at 100 km/h. It is common to find an 80 km/h (50 mph) limit through a commercial shopping area.

The maximum speed on most highways is 120 km/h, although the maximum on the E11 between Abu Dhabi and Dubai has recently been reduced from 160 km/h to 140 km/h. The speed cameras on this road now give 0 km/h tolerance above this speed.

Speed cameras are numerous on all roads both in the city and on intercity and international routes, however the camera trigger speed is typically 20 km/h above the limits, and drivers commonly brake hard to pass the camera then accelerate again.

Heavy vehicles are sometimes subject to a lower limit, as displayed on a dual-limit sign.

Minimum speed limits are also imposed on many main roads, typically at 60 km/h.



Traffic Signals

Most traffic signals display the traditional 4 phase sequence, i.e. green > amber > red > red-amber > green, although at many junctions there is a 5th phase, a flashing green after the steady green: green > flashing-green > amber > red > red-amber > green. Most signal heads are of high-powered LED type so are easy to see at a distance and in bright sunlight. Some traffic signals incorporate the French system of having a smaller set of signals at a lower height to match the eye-height of a car driver.






Road signs

Regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, hazard, directional, and advice, all follow the standard ISO (European) system. Directional and advice signs are written dual language in Arabic and English. Where numbers are displayed, Arabic and European numbers are used on the same sign, so speed limits, distances, etc are readable by all drivers.





Road markings

White is the predominant marking colour, but yellow is also used for some markings, typically for boundary lines, ghost islands, and box junctions.





Kerb markings

The UAE use the standard Middle East system of black & yellow for no parking, and black & white for parking areas, although there are more than a few places which appear to be painted in the wrong colour scheme.




Roundabouts are common on many roads, sometimes having up to 4 circulating lanes. Approach to many roundabouts is marked by either rumble strips or by speed humps, slow down early. Use of all roundabouts is conventional, with entering traffic giving way to circulating traffic. Roundabouts have adequate signs and markings, and the lanes of the circulating carriageway are ample wide so an articulated truck should easily remain within its own lane. Some busy roundabouts are signalised, watch for the next signal when circulating.






The UAE has an impressive modern road network system. Many junctions are grade-separated, the most common here is the clover-leaf, as space is not generally an issue. Other junctions in the cities are multi-lane signal controlled, were it is common to see several stacking lanes for each direction, a typical signal controlled junction may have 3 lanes for turning left, 5 for ahead, and 2 for turning right. Get into the correct lane early. Signage is generally good, although sometimes the difference between the alternate directions when turning onto a divided highway may not always be clear. At some locations slip-roads may leave the highway on either right or left side of the highway. Getting into the correct lane early is important.





Pedestrian Crossings

There are several types of pedestrian crossings, both controlled and un-controlled. All have zebra markings whether there are light signals or not. Crossings are common at major intersections and on lesser roads, but few drivers are willing to stop unless a red signal is showing. As a pedestrian it can be very difficult to cross the road safely.



Railway Crossings

Dubai now has a new rail system which is part overhead, part at ground level, and part underground. However, it is engineered without any at-grade railway level crossings to exclude conflict.




The UAE has a very extensive system of major highways, all very wide multi-lane type. Direction signage is generally good, but take care to select the correct exit for your desired direction. Some of the intercity routes and international routes can be flat, straight, and featureless for long distances. Generally all highways have street lighting for night travel.

Many roads of good standard including some international routes that are subject to speed limits of 120 km/h also have roundabouts, and these roundabouts are typically preceded by speed humps on approach to the roundabout, plan ahead and slow down early.





City Driving

Roads around the cities are typically very busy, wide, multi-lane roads. Congestion is common from 06.00 am to midnight. Speeds tend to be high, ensure you plan ahead and get in the correct lane early.





Rural Roads

There are few rural routes that are not built to highway standards. Some are flat and straight across the desert, others meander around the mountains in the east. All are to a good standard. Despite the claim that 100% of roads are surfaced, there are a few graded roads where the top surface is merely of crushed gravel without asphalt. On this type of surface never exceed 80 km/h on the best flat straight roads, and slow down for al hazards, as at higher speeds tyre friction is quite minimal.





Night Driving

Night driving is considered acceptable in the cities, main roads have street lighting, but on minor roads watch for pedestrians who may be dressed in black and almost impossible to see, and watch for cyclists who typically have no lights whatsoever. On intercity and international highways, roads are illuminated, and are generally fenced to keep animals off the road, but beware there could still be animals on the road.






Parking on the road is not permitted anywhere except in marked bays. In most of the city centres parking places can be difficult to find. However, outside of busy commercial areas there is usually ample space to get your vehicle fully off the road into a parking area. Almost everywhere else is hard flat stony desert, so it is easy to find somewhere off the road to park safely.




Something to watch out for … the higher speeds and multi-lane traffic systems, speed limits are high, and most traffic generally moves at the limit and above.


©Keith Lane 2009