Dubai is paying people not to break the law

Drivers offered prizes for good behaviour.

It's hardly common practice for authorities to offer prize money for staying within the limits of the law - but this is exactly what's happening in Dubai.

Drivers who go 12 months without a traffic violation will now become eligible for prizes - including cars. There are about one million driving licences registered in Dubai, and only 500 prizes, and therefore, as the head of Dubai Police traffic department Maj Gen Al Zaffin told The National, "there might need to be a selection process based on the number of people who will be eligible”. Might. But as atrocious as driving in Dubai might currently be, there are high hopes for the scheme:

"[W]e are hoping it will reduce accidents by 10 to 20 per cent in the long run,” he said.

It's an odd, nudge-policy-like thing for Dubai authorities to do - but a quick scout for relevant studies throws up some evidence that supports the idea.

One study in the US found that speeding was virtually eliminated amongst drivers who were offered $25  a week not to exceed a speed limit.

Here's a summary, via stuff.co.nz:

The study placed a GPS tracker in eight cars and loaned to 50 different drivers for a week. A control group of 10 drove the cars as they did every day and their speed was monitored.

Another 20 were warned every time they exceeded the speed limit.

The final 20 drivers were also warned when they exceeded the speed limit but additionally told they would get a $25 reward at the end of the week if they didn't exceed the speed limit. They lost three cents for travelling between 3-8 miles per hour (5-13kmh) over the limit and six cents for infringements above that level, the npr.org website reports. Any speeding tickets they accrued stood as an additional penalty.

Each time the driver completed a trip, they were given a report showing any penalties they had accrued.

According to the researchers, the very clear (if small) penalties and rewards system made motorists determined to "win the game" - watching their driving far more carefully.

Insurance companies already operate a rewards system for careful drivers - but this is the first time a goverment has. It will be interesting to see if it works.

Cars vs camels in Dubai. Photograph: Getty Images
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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear