Driving in Dubai

Driving in Dubai is very different from the western world. Take care out there - be 100% focused at all times and that way you will get from A-Z safely.

Updated 11-December-2014  

Driving in Dubai – safely….

OK, so this is a female writing about a (supposedly) male territory – driving and cars.

Cars – four wheels and a steering wheel are a good start!  Fuel in Dubai is cheap – AED 1.72 (on average) per US Gallon which is equivalent to 3.785 litres. Imperial Gallons is the gallon measure used in the UK (although fuel is now sold in the metric litres in all of Europe) and equal to 4.546 litres. Hence the big 4 x 4s which line the school parking areas or heave their way along the Sheikh Zayed Road.

You could always hire a car – cost is approximately AED 2,000 per month for a small Yaris or Mazda 2. The cost increases with the size of the car – so you could be paying above AED 3,000 per month for a saloon or something like a Kia Sportage. There are plenty of car hire companies in Dubai. They are all regulated and checked thoroughly on a pretty regular basis by the Dubai authorities hence they will insist on the correct paperwork being made available before you hire a car. If you are a visitor this includes your original passport (they take a copy) and your driving license. You must also provide a credit card.  And there is an age restriction. You must be 18 years old to drive in Dubai and more often than not, 25+ for hiring a car.

Not all nationalities are allowed to drive a hire car so double check with the car hire company or with RTA on free toll number 800 9090 or if you are calling from abroad +971 4 284 4444.  

We have been hiring cars for over 6 years and in our experience Europcar has been one of the better companies through which to hire a car.

You can hire child car seats for an extra charge. Children should always be strapped into the correct car seat.  It is mandatory for all passengers to wear seat belts.

The fuel tank will be full at the time of collection and when returning a hire car you should ensure that the petrol tank is full otherwise you are charged above the cost to fill the tank.

Salik – Road Tolls

Each car in Dubai has a Salik tag which is placed in the middle of the windscreen. The information for each journey along the Sheikh Zayed Road is collected at the Salik ‘gates’ and registered on your Salik account.  You can check online details about your account.

If you drive into Dubai from another Emirate you will see signs mentioning Salik.  There are Salik road toll points on the Sheikh Zayed Road – Mamzar, Airport Tunnel, Al Barsha, Al Safa, Al Gharhoud and Al Maktoum.

Every time you pass one of the Salik ‘gates’ your journey will be registered and you will be charged AED 4.  A car hire company will charge you AED 5 each time you pass through a Salik ‘gate’.  You are normally charged at the end of the hire period or every month if you are hiring for a longer period of time.  If you are in a taxi you need to pay this extra charge – another reason to get a receipt!

You can register and purchase top-ups for Salik at most petrol stations or online.  Details regarding Salik can be found on their website. There is also a new app for Salik.

Don’t forget – if you buy a new car, register it for Salik.

Where to buy fuel/gas/petrol

There are petrol stations dotted all over Dubai. If you have a GPS system you may be able to search for the nearest station. Be warned that nearly all petrol stations have queues which back up to 3 or 4 cars per pump depending on the time of day so add 15 or 20 minutes to your journey time if you need to stop for petrol. An attendant will serve your petrol except during midnight and 6am where some of the stations are self-service although there will always be someone around to help you. Payment is usually made in cash although some petrol stations now accept card payments. Make sure you have enough cash on you anyway. A small car costs about AED 50-70 to fill and a larger car will probably be around AED 100+.  You can tell the attendant that you want AED 50 worth of petrol. We are unsure if there is a minimum amount which you would pay. If there is it is probably around AED 20.

Driving on the correct side of the road – the LEFT

So left is right!  A great piece of advice for the newbees amongst us – your body, as the driver, should be close to the central reservation. There’s something very far wrong if you’re driving along the road and you, as the driver, are closer to the verge than the central reservation. Obviously, if there are many lanes of traffic (approximately six in Dubai’s main arterial routes) then just remember to keep your body and the driver’s side of the car parallel to the central reservation.

If you are going to overtake a car you should overtake from the left.  Undertaking on the right is illegal and dangerous. Stick to overtaking on your left.

4 x 4 Driving

This is great fun but you can come across difficulties if you’re not experienced and even the experienced drivers travel with a minimum of two vehicles. There is plenty of advice out there on the internet – take it seriously.  The RTA runs 4 x 4 driving courses for driving in the sand dunes for which, if you pass, you receive a 4 x 4 drivers’ license.  The desert safari companies’ drivers must have this type of license and be able to display it to you on request.  You have the right to ask – be safe, not sorry!

Tinted Windows

You will come across a lot of cars which have had their windows tinted.  Hire cars are allowed to have very light tinted windows. If you are visiting government buildings and have tinted windows then for the vast majority of the population the maximum allowed percentage of tinting is 30%.  Some cars are almost blacked out completely and may herald an official of some kind but not always. The only problem with tinted windows is that it is more difficult to see the face of the person and there are times when it is beneficial to be able to see the driver and his/her reactions – at a junction for example.

There are many outlets who do this kind of work and you can find them in car parks attached to malls or streets in Satwa and similar areas. The plastic sheeting is cut and applied to the car windows. It can be removed and replaced as and when necessary.

What to do in the event of a car accident

If you happen to have an accident (God forbid) then you need to (and if you can) pull over to allow traffic to pass. If the accident has caused an injury then you should not move the car. Call the police and ambulance service on 999 and wait in a safe area, i.e. off the road if possible. The police will assess the damage and ask questions of the parties involved. In most cases you will be given either a green or a pink A4 sheet of paper with your details and the policeman’s judgement.  If you receive the green notice then you are not considered to be the driver at fault. If you receive the pink sheet you are considered to have caused the accident.  You will need to keep this paper for your insurance company or for the car hire company.

Keep calm when discussing the accident with the police. It is a difficult experience but being aggressive or negative doesn’t help.

We will organise another guide soon about buying a car in Dubai. Oh, and we’ll also cover car insurance very soon.




The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only. Readers are encouraged to seek appropriate independent legal advice.

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