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DUBAI (Reuters Life!) - A young male culture that views speeding, tailgating, cutting off cars and other reckless behavior behind the wheel as manly is behind high accident rates in the United Arab Emirates, a new report said.
The driving habits of young male Emiratis sparked an outcry last year when several were caught on camera spinning and skidding on two wheels in trucks across a main commuter highway in broad daylight in Dubai, one of seven emirates.
A survey conducted by faculty members of the United Arab Emirates University found that aggressive tailgating, headlight flashing and cutting off other cars were all considered manly by young Emirati men, who took a disparaging view of traffic laws.
"Abiding by the speed limit, maintaining a clear distance behind cars in front, wearing seatbelts, and stopping to make mobile telephone calls are often considered unmanly or cowardly - or practices followed only by 'unskilled drivers'," the university's report on the survey said.
The per capita death toll on UAE roads is among the highest in the world, according to World Health Organization data, although Dubai Police say fatal road accidents dropped by 23 percent in the UAE in the first half of 2010, compared to the same period in 2009.
"Young Emiratis' attitudes, values and response to peer pressure are behind the alarming number of UAE car accidents, injuries and fatalities," the report said.
Gulf Arab governments have been trying to discourage reckless driving with a shock campaign of television advertising showing Arab drivers, all men, dying or killing others in bloody simulated car wrecks. But they face an uphill battle.
Gas-guzzling four-wheel drives, including popular Hummers, share UAE roads with Ferraris and Maseratis as well as less luxurious Chinese-made imports.
"Some of the Emiratis surveyed are strongly tempted to overtake if the car they are driving is fancier than the one in front," the report said of the survey, describing it as an expression of superiority.
Around 16 percent of the survey's male respondents said they "mostly will overtake the car in front if the driver is an expatriate or from another emirate."
The exhibitionist driving style of many motorists can be intimidating for reasonable drivers, with some road users also spotted typing text messages on their mobile phones, eating and even applying fingernail polish while behind the wheel.
Up to half of the young Emirati men talk on mobile phones while driving, stop their cars in inner lanes to chat with other drivers, don't bother wearing seatbelts, and drive in the wrong direction down one-way streets.
"The female Emiratis and Arab expatriates adhere more to speed limits than the male Emiratis, who appear to thrive on risk and do not abide by traffic and safety rules," the report concluded.
Additional reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Casciato