Thursday’s Riyadh fuel truck explosion in which 22 died and over a hundred were badly burned, would be a major story in most countries. Unfortunately for us in Saudi Arabia, this sort of tragedy is all too common.
In just a single day earlier this week, at least 38 people died needlessly in the Kingdom because of utterly thoughtless and stupid behavior. On the Taif-Riyadh expressway, 13 drivers and passengers perished in their vehicles, eight of them in a single wreck, while in another crash, six members of the same family were killed.
However, perhaps the most terrible loss of life occurred at the wedding in the village of Ain Badr in the Abqaiq region, when 25 women were electrocuted after celebratory gunfire brought down a high voltage cable onto their tent which had a metal floor.
There are two key points to make about these tragedies. The first is that they were brought about by people who were breaking the law. There are road traffic rules against dangerous driving, including motoring at high speeds.
The Saher camera system with its punitive fines has brought about a marked improvement in driving standards, but only where the cameras are known to be. It is not yet possible, though it is surely an arguable idea, for every stretch of highway to be covered by this automated aid to driving discipline.
It is now also against the law to discharge weapons at weddings. There were those that complained that banning this long-standing tradition was unreasonable, despite the injuries that have been caused by spent rounds returning to earth and the alarm and inconvenience discharging firearms caused to other people in the neighborhood.
Road traffic regulations and bans on gunfire at weddings are not arbitrary impositions. They have been put in place for the safety and well-being of everyone in the Kingdom. Those who ignore them are guilty of criminal behavior. In fact, they are doing something worse; by their selfish conduct they are displaying complete contempt for others. Any reasonable person must surely recognize that the Kingdom’s appalling road death toll, which is among the highest per capita in the world, is a record for which they should feel nothing but shame. Last year, over 7,000 lives were lost and many thousands of people seriously injured in well over half a million road wrecks. These should never be called accidents, because each and every one of them could have been avoided, if one or more of the drivers involved had behaved responsibly.
Then there is the terrible loss of life at the Ain Badr wedding. Clearly some of the men decided that they were not going to break with tradition, and despite the prohibition would fire their guns in the air anyway. They imagined that if they were reported and prosecuted, the fines would be a trifle compared with the joy and excitement of this great event of which they were a part. Unbelievably, however, it is clear that no one thought to work out how the weapons could be fired safely with the bullets falling harmlessly over open ground.
Instead, in an act of complete folly and thoughtlessness, they shot up toward a power line and brought it down. This was no accident. It was a willful act of stupidity. The investigation that is now underway must find the guilty men, who should be tried for manslaughter and punished accordingly. If people will not take responsibility for looking after the lives of others by behaving with care and consideration, then the law must be used to remind them, and society as a whole, of this obligation.