“Traffic accidents are common in Dubai and are a leading cause of death in the United Arab Emirates,” says Angloinfo, a source of intelligence for Dubai’s expat community. “Unsafe driving practices are common, especially on main roads. Drivers should particularly look out for unmarked speed bumps, pedestrians crossing and drifting sand, which can cause visibility problems.”
There are more than 1.5 million cars in Dubai, many of them capable of 200 mph. It’s telling that even the police in Dubai drive Bugattis. Frequently, accidents involve these supercars, such as the Ferrari crash at the Jumeirah Lake Towers in Dubai last monththat killed four, including Canadian boxer Cody Nixon. He had just posted an Instagram picture of himself with the rented car and the message, “Don’t worry, I won’t speed.”
Around the same time, another accident killed Victoria McGrath, a Northeastern University student who was wounded in the Boston Marathon bombing.
With all this in mind, perhaps we should hail Dubai’s decision to welcome self-driving cars. According to the local Khaleej Times, “His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched on Monday an ambitious strategy for smart self-driving transport as part of Dubai’s strategy to become the smartest city in the world.”
The plan is to have a quarter of all trips by 2030 taken by driverless vehicles. It sounds ambitious, and the vision people love — sitting in the back of a self-driving car with a cellphone — is at least a decade away. But if the country has the necessary funding (and the UAE does) and the will (yes on that, too) it should be able to realize the goal with evolving technology over the next 14 years.
Mattar al-Tayer, the director-general and chairman of the Roads and Transport Authority, has announced plans for testing driverless cars, and has already inked a contract with EasyMile, a French company that makes the boxy, 10-passenger EZ10. It’s a self-driving small electric shuttle bus that could go along pre-programmed routes, or be called as a taxi on a smartphone. It’s got all the latest safety technology, including obstacle detection, and can motor around for 14 hours on a single charge.The Crown Prince himself took an EZ10 at a recent transport forum in Dubai.
Dubai already has a driverless Metro system that carried 178 million riders in 2015, so the shuttle buses should slot right in. The EZ10 is already serving passengers at EDPF University in Lausanne, Switzerland, and it had trial runs in Sweden and Singapore.
Dubai is also talking to Google, but an actual commercial vehicle from oracles of Mountain View may be some time in coming. Still, Dubai did set a goal of 2030, and by then many commentators think real autonomous vehicles will be plentiful on the road.