More than a year after the Ministry of Interior asked residents to report motorists who violate traffic laws in Qatar, some individuals still fear that taking photos of rule-breakers could land themselves in legal trouble.
However, a traffic consultant has told Doha News that authorities want to encourage people to help catch dangerous drivers and would intervene to scuttle any legal complaints.
Still, he conceded that some aggressive motorists may try to intimidate individuals who take their pictures.
Amid safety concerns and a large number of complaints about the careless and uncourteous driving habits of some motorists, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) began asking residents to use its Metrash 2 mobile phone app to report rule breakers in late 2013, and launched an awareness campaign last summer.
Users can take pictures of violations that can be proven with a photo – such as passing on the hard shoulder, blocking traffic or using their mobile phone while driving – and forward the evidence to the MOI.
This feature is intended to be used by pedestrians and vehicle passengers only – not drivers behind the wheel.
However, the app almost immediately sparked questions from residents about the practicality of the government asking residents to photograph traffic violations.
Many said they fear they would be breaking a cultural taboo by taking a stranger’s picture – especially if an expat is photographing a Qatari.
“Can you imagine an Indian male taking a photo of a Qatari female and getting away with it?” asked one commentator in June.
“I can just imagine the scenario: See violation – take photo – fix GPS co-ords – report to police.
Turns out that the violator was the wrong kind – lots of wasta – (and) I get arrested for ‘violating his privacy,’” speculated another.
Meanwhile, anecdotes of residents being accosted and finding themselves the subject of a public prosecutor’s probe continue to circulate:
— Khanan (@alikhanan) February 7, 2015
Others have questioned whether the authorities would act on their complaint:
@dohanews it’s a waste of time, the moi don’t seem to do anything when I’ve uploaded pics to metrash
— Kimd (@kimd186) January 29, 2015
@dohanews once reported about a car who threw trash on road, sent picture to Metrash, I followed the case but No action taken!
— Salman (@de_ingeniero) January 29, 2015
MoI ‘happy to have evidence’
Speaking to Doha News, a local traffic consultant who asked not to be named said it is best to be discreet when taking a photo of a driver breaking the rules of the road to avoid the possibility of conflict.
He said local authorities would not prosecute anyone who uses Metrash 2, adding that MOI officials treat the images it receives using the app the same as photos taken from stationary radar cameras.
“(Other drivers) can give you a hassle, but not legal problems … Once you commit a crime, you don’t have (a right to) privacy,” … This is not Dubai,” he said.
In 2013, a UAE resident was arrested after filming an Emirati beating a south Asian man following a minor traffic collision.
He added that MOI would not tell the violator who took the photo. When asked about the prospect of a police investigation, the traffic consultant suggested that anyone who finds themselves in such a situation go to the traffic department and ask to speak to the head of violations.
He said a phone call from the MOI to the public prosecutor’s office should end the matter.
“(Using Metrash 2) is not against the law,” he said, adding the MOI looks favorably on those who use it to help them improve traffic safety.
“They are so happy to have the evidence.”