Thursday, 23 June 2011

Spotlight on driving in Saudi Arabia

It’s a given that any blog about Saudi Arabia will, at some point, spotlight the driving.

Depending on your point of view, driving in Riyadh can be somewhat exciting or totally nerve wracking.  Expats have used the following terms to describe their driving experience in the Magic Kingdom:

dangerous, hell brainless maniacal
traumatic, hectic terrible crazy
a death wish a hazard reckless a nightmare
an activity only undertaken by brave souls, an adrenaline rush and heart stopping…

…and that is just the tip of the adjective iceberg.

Today Noor (who has been back in town for a week or so after getting married) and I were chatting about some ‘New Regulations’ for drivers.

'New Regulations’ has inverted commas because the rules under discussion have actually been around for a couple of years but, as any sensible western license holders can attest, most drivers in Saudi completely ignore them. (Probably because most drivers here have never read them given my previous post on obtaining a Saudi Driver Licence).

Apparently, a couple of years ago, the Powers That Be introduced the rule that mobile phones were not to be used while driving.

Shit!  Really! I cracked up with that one.  

Then I pointed out the next five people talking on phones while driving - and it took all of six cars to reach my goal!

It seems the police were cracking down on this particular reg the other day as one of Noors colleagues received a 500SAR fine for talking on his mobile while driving.

I'd be interested to know how many rule breaking Saudi's drove past Mr Policeman before he decided to book Mr Taxi man. 

Not a very nice thing to say, but you don't have to be in this country long to figure out that the rules must first be forcefully applied to everybody else before the spotlight turns on a Saudi. 

 As my nephew likes to say, “Pick on the black fella first why don’t ya?”

The Nephew
Based on stories I’ve heard (yes, gossip), should a Saudi be involved in any driver regulation infringement where it’s perfectly obvious they are at fault, their reaction is often times one, or a combination, of the following:
  • Have a childish paddy and blame 'the other guy’, even if there is no other guy, but especially if ‘the other guy’ is foreign and/or colored;
  • Assume, absolutely, that he is blameless it was the fault of ‘the other guy’ and expect, without doubt, that ‘the other guy’ will eventually accept (or be accused of) the blame simply because he is foreign and especially if he is colored.
  • Pull out the "Do you know who I am?" tactic with hoity arrogance, presuming to be the center of the universe, with absolute disregard for anyone else at the scene and completely ignore ‘the other guy’ and his plea of innocence, if there is another guy, but especially if ‘the other guy’ is foreign and/or colored, ….
It’s no wonder, after these antics, the police retreat to their vehicles resigned to the fact they can't do a damned thing.  I'd be surprised if they are truly happy in their roles.  Who needs to put up with this arrogant, racist, classist unfairness day after day?  If I had to take bets on who's gonna get points from the almighty for being the most peaceful and patient in these situations, given this is the homeland of Peace and Faith, it would be the guy in the cop uniform. 

Should the spotlight beam on a Saudi of imperial lineage, oh my goodness!  The blessed halogen bulb would burst with sparkling and crackling and plumes of white smoke till what was illuminated, completely disappears.  Now is that magic in the Magic Kingdom or what?

Our conversation included speed cameras that began mysteriously popping up at major intersections and along main highways in and around Riyadh a few months back in an effort, they said, to curb the road toll and, as a spin off, to increase the government (do I smell smoke?) coffers.   

Rumour has it that after numerous drivers called the traffic department to complain about the speeding tickets they were suddenly receiving, and no doubt refusing to pay, the Powers That Be decided they ought to put up speed limit signs. 

Until then I don't believe many signs existed.
In fact, until recently, I'm not sure that speed limits actually existed.

If you're getting the impression that I'm totally averse to the driving culture in Saudi, you'd be wrong.

Having come from NZ where life is so regulated it's a wonder there’s no rule about where and when you can fart (oh crap, that's right, there was that Fart Tax wasn't there), I admit to finding the lack of regulation here in Saudi somewhat refreshing.

It's nice to know you can blow the cobwebs from the carburetor on a near empty highway at 190km/hour in a vehicle designed to go fast.  It’s perfectly reasonable to turn right on a red light because there’s no traffic going that way.  It's hilarious watching 4WD's straddle the curbing of central city center pieces in the act of performing a U-turn because....well, because they can.

I am supportive of efforts to make Saudi roads safer. The number of road accidents causing death and disabilities each year is astronomical. 

Sometimes one can get the impression that, when your single aim in life is to reach the hereafter, which I'm led to believe (in this country anyway) is the goal of all Muslims, a car accident at high speeds that sends road users hurtling into the afterlife seems to be considered more of a blessing than an issue.

It can’t be denied that many people here, not just Saudi’s (and yes, now I’m honing in on the Indian sub-continents) are shocking drivers.  

If ‘The Powers That Be’ were serious about road safety, there are a couple of other options they could try, like putting all drivers who receive infringement notices through a compulsory course that emphasizes driver courtesy, thoughtfulness and patience, not to mention how to use indicators and those attachments called mirrors.   And possibly a refresher on the road rules would be a good idea.

This would help in decreasing road rage if not road carnage.  Naturally, the 8 -12 year old drivers will need a coloring book to help them out.

Allowing women to drive, who are globally proven to be safer drivers than men, is a no brainer in  the rest of the world, which begs the questions 'Where are the brains in this country on that issue?'  Oh yeah, that's right men run this place - brains are likely dwelling in that thing I shall politely call An Appendage.

And finally, according to my sources (nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers and others involved in scraping car crash victims off the roads) the majority of high speed vehicular accidents that occur in Saudi are because the driver was under the influence of banned substances.  So someone really ought to have a word to the guy responsible for the thriving underground market in Drugs and Alcohol in this country.  Now, who would that possibly be?....  

Spotlight on driving in Saudi.

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