By Mariam Nihal
JEDDAH — The Kingdom is deemed by many to be one of the unsafest places in the world to drive. And they have a basis for thinking so: There are 18 deaths per day and one death is recorded every one and a half hours due to the violation of speed and traffic rules. Road rage is the result of the stress, mental fatigue and emotional distress of many drivers.
Bilal Ahmad, 23, said: “I have acute stress and muscular problems due to driving. I thought it was all mental stress but driving for long hours and being stuck in traffic has taken a toll on my body with back pain, headaches, and tendon and ligament problems. The streets of Jeddah have a new surprise for us every day. They block any road they want. They start rebuilding a road recently built and the bridges take years to complete.”
Marwan Ahmed, a motor engineer living in Riyadh, told Saudi Gazette he dreads driving in the Kingdom.
“I hate driving here. Drivers — especially Jeddah drivers — should know that rash driving and uncontrolled high speeds endanger the lives of passengers in their car and in other cars on the road. Riyadh is stricter but we still have a long way to go. Look at Dubai; their roads, security and control systems are all in place. If you speed, you get flashed and fined for it. You do not get to negotiate it. Here, I have seen police officers letting young guys go in exchange for an apology. This is not professional and not the way to run the streets. The traffic control in our neighboring Arab countries is commendable; we should learn from our neighbors.”
Hamad Hamid, a 45-year-old engineer, told Saudi Gazette: “The main question and the only question remains: Where are the traffic police? In less developed countries they have enough manpower and traffic enforcers to help control and regulate the traffic. Here, whenever there is an accident, we have to wait an hour before anything gets done. It is so frustrating.
“When I had an accident recently, I could not prove that the man who hit my car was wrong because there were no witnesses. People here do not care; instead they just park their cars and stare unhelpfully at whatever is going on. So you have to wait for the police to come, listen, judge and then decide what they would like to do,” Hamid said, adding that it was a shame that a country like Saudi Arabia cannot regulate and control traffic regulations more assertively.
According to the Saher website, traffic accidents numbered a massive 485,931 last year with nine million traffic violations annually, while 6,458 people died in road accidents last year, leaving a high ratio of 13 deaths per 1,000 accidents. Saher is an automated traffic control and management system covering major cities in Saudi Arabia and uses the technology of a digital camera network linked with the National Information Center of the Ministry of Interior.
Hamza Hashim, a 28-year-old pilot, said it infuriates him to see there are no ground rules and no consequences for violators of traffic rules.
“There are unfinished roads that cause more traffic. If it is a four-lane road and suddenly they change it to two lanes, more cars line up, wasting more time and more mental energy. I hate going anywhere anymore. The thrill to drive is no longer alive,” Hashim said.
In 2011, there was an injury or disabled incident reported every quarter of an hour.
“Driving in Jeddah with no speed limits and no road etiquette drives me crazy. I have high blood pressure and I see drivers fighting almost every day. You hear foul language, see the middle finger, some pushing and shoving with screams. It is ludicrous to see grown men fighting. But there is so much stress, you have to find a way to blow off the steam,” said Najib Abbas, an architect working in Jeddah.
Mohammed Akram, a senior manager working at a retail store in Jeddah, said he feels expatriates get the short end of the stick. “It seems that the police would let a young Saudi violator go and this sometimes aggravates us. The young expat boys already know they will get in trouble so most try to stay out of it, although there are of course rebels. There is so much anger in people, especially the youth. So they take it out on the roads when they are driving because they are in control. Hence they do not care if they get fined for it and do not realize they might take someone’s life in exchange.
“It is all very psychological. We need to sit down with our people and talk to them. Then enforce all traffic regulations — with no compromises,” Akram said.
Sajjad Al-Ghamdi, a marketing executive, said: “There is no sense in driving. At all. I always have to guess where the driver beside me or behind my car is going. They change their minds very quickly and you have to get used to being overtaken, pushed aside, or honked to move so they can get ahead. I do not understand this brutal need for speed. Let’s face it: We are not Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton.”