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SPECIAL REPORT

Driving change

by Mark Lazell, July 8, 2013

Having launched a regional road safety campaign in the UAE more than three years ago, German auto maker BMW has been steadily rolling out the initiative to other Gulf states as it hopes to influence a change in driving habits.

If the impact on families, colleagues and those unfortunate to have witnessed such incidents lend a sad and gruesome reality to the scale of the problem in the region, statistics also put it into alarming global perspective.

According to the World Bank, traffic accidents in the Mena region kill an average of between 17 and 22 people per 100,000 every year. In OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] states the figure is slightly over six.

The figures for Saudi Arabia are particularly grim. The local English language Saudi Gazette newspaper, citing official numbers, says there were more than 1,500 reported car accidents every day on the country’s roads in 2011. And in 2009 the kingdom had the world’s highest number of road accident fatalities per head of population. Meanwhile a 2012 Qatar University study predicted that, at current rates, one in every five vehicles in its country would be involved in an accident in 2015.

While debate continues about the impact of road safety campaigns in GCC states and the way the law is enforced, one high profile global car brand believes it is helping steer a change in driver attitudes and behaviour.

BMW Group Middle East launched its ‘Stay Alert. Stay Alive’ road safety campaign in March 2010, with particular focus on encouraging seat belt use for adults, and restraints for children.

Leanne Blanckenberg, BMW Group’s Middle East corporate communications chief, helped spearhead what was essentially a ‘home grown’ campaign from the German car manufacturers Dubai regional headquarters. She insists the campaign is not a typical CSR initiative.

“For most multinational companies, CSR campaigns are an integral part of their business, but in the Middle East there is a tendency among some companies to make a donation and think this is sufficient, simply ticking their CSR box,” she tells The Gulf. “Although making a donation is helpful, it’s an easy route. But it doesn’t give a company control over influencing change,” she adds.

Seeking to influence change, BMW launched ‘Stay Alert. Stay Alive’ in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Over the last two years or so it has steadily been rolled out to Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Bahrain is next, later this year.

Blanckenberg says although the campaign is conceived in-house by BMW, the endorsement of local authorities such as the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai (RTA), the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD), municipalities and the Emirates Driving Institute is essential to its success and profile.

“In all markets where we have launched the campaign, we have got the local transport ministry to endorse it,” she explains.

The campaign focus on seat belts and child restraints was prompted by the results a survey the company conducted among roughly 1,000 BMW and MINI owners in the GCC. Among the findings, 94 per cent of respondents stated that while it was important for children to use restraints, more than a third confessed their children didn’t use them.

Blanckenberg says a range of awareness activities were set in motion in public places in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, organised in partnership with local government authorities and also involving the AGMC and Abu Dhabi Motors dealerships. Child safety booster cushions were distributed in malls and parks during Awareness Days. Demonstrations on the correct installation of child safety restraints were also carried out.

Notably, the campaign was extended to Saudi Arabia last October, where local BMW importer Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors arranged awareness events in shopping malls in Jeddah, Riyadh and Al Khobar, and 1,000 child booster cushions were distributed.

In total, roughly 9,000 child booster cushions were handed out in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

But it is to the region’s most statistically at-risk demographic group that the campaign is arguably best placed to make the biggest impact.

Last year BMW has conducted a series of educational road shows at four campuses of the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the UAE’s largest higher learning institution. More than 2,000 students attended the road shows.

Blanckenberg says BMW’s engagement with HCT - which has 14 campuses and 19,000 students across the country - will grow. “In March we sent a questionnaire to almost 16,000 [HCT] students asking about their driving behaviour, and received almost 3,000 responses. The findings are being analysed by a research company so we can ascertain the reasons for good and poor driving behaviour,” she explains.

BMW is also behind a 30-minute online road safety programme, which will be introduced to the HCT curriculum for 12 months starting on 1 September 2013. The programme will be compulsory for all 19,000 HCT students.

The institution’s vice chancellor Dr Tayeb Kamali says the BMW campaign has “significant relevance” for the students and that the online course is an important educational tool.

“As the safety of students is a paramount issue, the Higher Colleges of Technology have this year expanded their involvement with the BMW Group Middle East Road Safety Campaign to involve all of our foundation programme students,” he notes.

“The course is another example of the Higher Colleges utilising innovative technology to engage students in the educational process, as part of the HCT’s Learning by Doing philosophy. The feedback and keen involvement by over 3,000 students who participated indicate that this method of education is an invaluable process for them,” he adds.

Blanckenberg says BMW will continue to focus on getting young drivers in the UAE and elsewhere to “buckle up” following what she describes as an “overwhelming response” to last year’s campaign. She adds that the array of awards BMW has won for this unique CSR campaign will not deflect from its mission to make the GCC’s roads safer.

“We feel a lot more needs to be done,” she admits. “Hopefully our campaign will eventually encourage the local governments to enforce seat belt and child car seat use.

“No other company has done as much in the Middle East to promote road safety, so we feel proud to talk about what we have done so that it encourages other companies to conduct campaigns for such a needful cause,” she concludes.

This feature appeared in the July 2013 issue of The Gulf, our sister publication.




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