With an American driver’s license, all you need to do to drive legally in Abu Dhabi is get it translated (and if you’re a woman, you need a letter of permission from your husband, father, or employer). Basically, the rules of the road here are the same as anywhere else, but there are a few interesting differences that I’ve noticed.
Before a stop light turns yellow, it flashes the green light. That’s pretty much your warning to slow down, because the yellow only lasts for a split second before it turns to red.
There is a lot of lane merging here…and it is very often not marked, so all of a sudden, the lane you were in no longer exists and you’re either driving on the shoulder or about to get run over by a large honking truck.
People really like to honk their horns here.
There are posted speed limits, but it is legal to exceed the limit by up to 20 kph. Also, speed limits don’t (seem to) apply to locals. I have actually heard that they are exempt from speed limits, but I’m not sure if that’s true or just expat folklore. Either way, you are told NOT to gauge your speed in relation to other drivers. Either they’re exempt and you are not, or they’re really rich and don’t mind paying the speeding tickets.
Cops do not pull you over for speeding. Everything is monitored by camera. If you are caught exceeding the speed limit, a fine is automatically sent to you or, in the case of most expats here, to your car rental agency who then adds it (plus an extra processing fee) to your monthly bill. I actually think this is a pretty nice system. I’m scared of interacting with the police, so at least I don’t have to stress out about that while driving. Also, you learn to spot the cameras or to know where they are along a road that you drive frequently. Of course, most of the time, we drive very comfortably within the speed limit (+20), but there are those looooong open stretches of highway out in the desert and everyone else is zooming by in their Ferraris, so you kinda get caught up.
Taxis have automatic speed limit sensors built in to their speedometers and if they start to speed, a kind, but stern British woman’s voice comes on to tell them to slow down. Of course, they do not. So you have to listen to the British woman say, “Please slow down. You are crossing the speed limit. Please slow down. You are crossing the speed limit. Please slow down. You are crossing the speed limit.” for your entire ride.
There are no car seat laws here. I see children all over the insides of cars and it really freaks me out/pisses me off. I’ve seen young kids sit in the front passenger seat, I’ve seen kids crawling all over each other in the back seat while the car is moving, I’ve even seen a toddler opening and closing a car door while it was stopped at a red light (he was not even wearing a seat belt).
Gas is very cheap here. All stations are run by the state-owned ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company). Since oil is highly subsidized, we fill up our tank for less than $20. Actually, we don’t pump our own gas. Just like in Oregon, someone does it for you.
If you’re not driving a million dollar sports car, you’re probably driving a SUV…and it’s probably a Mitsubishi Pajero. They are ubiquitous here. We drive an Accord and they’re almost rare!
Some cars from this region come equipped with a digital qibla, which is the compass that points the way toward the Kaaba in Mecca.
Since I’ve already ranted at length on this blog about directions and street names, I think that’s enough interesting driving facts for now.