Driving is not usually recommended for first-time visitors to the area. Those who dare will have to deal with the questionable local driving standards. Defensive driving is a must, and an SUV to provide height and visibility can help. Although road signs are generally in both English and Arabic, positioning is sometimes unusual and English spellings are phonetic, so can vary considerably. Gas and parking charges are inexpensive, but finding parking can be difficult, especially in areas of Old Dubai, Tecom, and Dubai Marina.
It's easy enough to hire a car with a driver by the day. This may be more expensive than a taxi but may suit visitors who prefer personalized service and want to avoid taxi lines during peak hours. Major car rental companies can arrange for a limousine and driver, as can hotel concierge desks. You'll generally pay per 6 hours or per 12 hours.
Taxis can also be hired by the half day (6 hours) or full day (12 hours). These arrangements can be made in advance or on the street. The cost of a 6-hour hire is AED500 and 12 hours is AED800.
Gasoline (or petrol) is available in all parts of the city. By international standards it's cheap, but prices have risen several times in the last few years. At this writing the price is AED2 per litre. Most fuel stations have attendants, who appreciate a small tip (small change up to AED5), especially for services such as windshield cleaning. Gas stations are open daily, 24 hours. Some fuel stations do not accept credit cards at the pump, so it's best to carry cash (though there are often ATMs at the shop).
Paid on-street parking and parking lots are the norm, but the sheer number of vehicles makes space scarce. Coin and SMS/RTA app operated machines are found in all paid parking zones. Prices start at AED2 per hour, with free time over lunch. There may be a time limit on how long you can stay in one parking space (normally four hours). Shopping malls usually have free parking, but hotels may charge. If you are only dining, you'll often need a stamp from the restaurant.
Roads across the city range from wide multilane highways to narrow single-lane streets. Road surfaces are generally very good. Out in the desert there are many unsurfaced routes through the sand that should not be attempted without a 4WD vehicle and a good map (but remember, driving on unsurfaced roads may invalidate your car rental insurance). Traffic is always heavy in Deira and Bur Dubai around the business districts but becomes extremely congested during the mornings (7 am–-9 am) and evenings (5 pm–7 pm) peak periods. Most roads are now well covered by GPS and apps like Google Maps, so even residents will tend to use these to avoid hot spots.
Dubai's roads are hair-raising at times. The local driving style is erratic, and varies from too fast to too slow, sometimes in the space of a few meters. Speeding tickets are only given at 20 km over the limit, and so some drivers really let loose on the highways. The far left lane is the fast lane, and if you sit there too long, you are bound to have a car right up your bumper flashing lights and swerving onto the shoulder. Perhaps scariest of all is the total lack of turn signals or checking mirrors, so be prepared to be alert and aggressive.
Rainstorms are rare and can cause chaos as there is little street drainage around the city. Cars will float, get bogged, cause jams, and find themselves in all kinds of difficult situations.
It's an offense to jaywalk (fine AED50), but people still do cross the highway when and where they shouldn't. This is extremely dangerous, and many casualties happen every year as a result. Even marked crossings are often ignored by drivers, so keep yourself at high alert.
All emergency service and breakdown personnel will speak English, so explaining your problem won't be an issue. If you have an accident you must stay with your vehicle (keep yourself safe from other traffic by waiting on the curb or median). Call the police and get an accident report to keep your insurance valid. If renting a vehicle, your rental company should issue you a telephone number in case of breakdown or accident. Keep this information safe.
Police. 999; www.dubaipolice.gov.ae.
Rules of the Road
Road signs and speed limits have information in Arabic and English. Most road signs are internationally understood pictograms. Speed limits are generally decided by road type (one lane or two lane) and whether the road is in a built up area or a rural area.
Driving with any alcohol in your system is a serious offense. Dubai police do not stop drivers for routine breathalyzer tests, but if there is an accident, or they have suspicions that a driver may be intoxicated, they will confiscate the vehicle and take the driver into custody. Even a very low level of alcohol in the blood can result in a jail term.
Speed limits in Dubai are 60–80 kph in urban areas and 100–120 kph on highways. Exact speed limits are posted on the roadsides. Speeding remains a major problem in the emirate. All cars in Dubai emit an audible sound if 120 km/hour is exceeded. It is an offense to use your mobile phone while driving unless you have a hands-free device, and children under 10 are not allowed to travel in the front seat of a vehicle. Seatbelts must be worn in the front. Unfortunately, breaking these rules is common, and you have the right to request that your taxi driver does not disregard them.
Traffic is generally controlled by lights, though there are traffic circles at some major intersections. Many roads are divided, and the road system uses U-turns as part of its design. Signs at intersections and traffic lights indicate whether or not it is permissible at that particular point.
There are automatic electronic tolls (SALIK) on some major highways. Your vehicle must be equipped with an electronic toll tag, and funds will be automatically deducted from the account each time you pass through. SALIK tags can be purchased and topped up at most petrol stations and branches of Emirates Bank and Dubai Islamic Bank. If you rent a vehicle, it's likely a SALIK tag will be included. You will be responsible for any tolls, and you'll be charged after you return the car.
Many of the international car rental companies in Dubai are licensed offices of local companies, but you will still find some international firms like Europcar, Sixt, and Thrifty. Offices and depots can be found at the airport and all over the city, and many firms will also be happy to bring vehicles to your hotel. Smaller vehicles include a mixture of European (Peugeot, Renault), Far Eastern (Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi), and U.S. (Chevrolet) options. Larger vehicles and SUVs are becoming an increasingly popular choice for families and those who want more comfort and safety, but some car rental companies prohibit off-road (dirt or sand roads) or desert driving as part of their contracts. As off-roading or general touring can also take you into nearby Oman, it is also important to check the insurance is covered there.
Minimum age ranges for rentals are usually 21 years old for compact vehicles and 25 for larger and 4WD vehicles. The maximum age is usually 75. Drivers must have an International Driving Permit, a license issued by the Dubai authorities, or one of a limited selection of accepted national licences (most developed and Gulf countries) in order to drive a vehicle in the emirate.
Although not compulsory, CDW (collision damage waiver) is advised because of the high accident rate in Dubai, and common occurrence of careless door-opening by others in small parking lots. Personal accident coverage is optional, and you should look at your level of existing coverage on your own insurance before accepting or declining this cover with your rental agreement.