Thursday, January 8, 2009

Road safety in Saudi Arabia


Which country has the dubious dinstinction of 153000 traffic accidents, 2800 injuries and 3500 fatalities every single year in road accidents? And which country has these figures rising exponentially each year? Sadly, the answer for both these questions is Saudi Arabia.
The shocking figures mentioned above point to just one reason - attitude. There is just absolute disregard for road safety and fellow drivers. Defensive driving is something which every person on the road needs to follow religiously. Among the GCC countries, the easiest place to get a driving license is Saudi Arabia. Maybe a compulsory examination on road safety is not out of place, before issuing and renewing driving licenses.

Not that there are no laws. In fact, there are very strict laws in place. The problem is in implementing them in letter and spirit. It is not uncommon to see some of these morons get away scot-free simply because they have the right wasta (influence) in the right place.
The most serious offences range from jumping the red light to practising "wheely" or joyriding. It was reported in the local newspapers that bored youths in the western city of Jeddah recently planned a dangerous game. At 2 am, they all assembled in the heart of the city and conducted a car race. The one who reached the airport first, a distance of over 15 km, without stopping at any of the traffic lights inbetween, was the winner. Thankfully, no one was hurt and some of them were caught by the police patrol. No one knows whether they got away using wasta or whether they were indeed punished.
The biggest problem an expatriate faces in the kingdom is the language. Sadly, most policemen take undue advantage of this. In case of an unfortunate accident, particularly involving an expat and a Saudi, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the 'fault' (as recorded in the police records) would always be that of the expat - if not fully, at least partially!
The first thing an expatriate working in Saudi Arabia needs to remember, if caught in an accident, is not to move your vehicle till the police arrives. Do not be bothered about the traffic behind you. Typically, your iqama would be taken away by the police when they arrive. You have to go to the traffice police station, where everything would be in Arabic.

I would advise all expatriates to never ever drive your vehicle without a license and an insurance. You must always carry these along with you, including your istemara (car registration card). Make sure that you have a photocopy of your iqama always in the car, because you will have to attach this with other documents in the police station. Preferably, go in for a comprehensive insurance, rather than a third party insurance which is mandatory.

Never ever sign any document in the police station unless you are sure of what is written above. Call your Government Relations Officer or your sponsor to the police station. If you are caught in a situation where you are forced to sign somewhere, do so but with the sentence above saying "I do not understand what is mentioned above". Believe me, this would save you from a lot of trouble.

Once, a Saudi driving a GMC hit my car from the rear while I was waiting at the traffic signal for the lights to turn green. The boot of my car was badly damaged. Anywhere in the world, if someone hits your car from behind, he is at 100% fault. When I reached the police station, I could not understand a word of what was being spoken. The GMC man and the cop had a very long conversation. I was finally asked to sign a form (all of which was in Arabic). In good faith, I trusted the cop and signed it, thinking it was some kind of a First Information Report.

When I visited the police station the next day with another Saudi friend to assist me with the translation, I was shocked to know that I had actually signed a document in which it was mentioned that everything was 100% my own fault and that I am absolving the other party of any liability! I protested saying that I signed under duress, without knowing what was written above and under instruction from the cop, but it was of no use.

Thankfully, my car had a comprehensive insurance. The insurance company initially refused to pay, saying that whenever someone hits your car from the rear it was 100% the fault of the other party, but I stood my ground and said that it was a comprehensive insurance which meant that the company had to pay, irrespective of whose fault it was. Finally, a compromise was reached in the office of the Captain, the highest officer in the police station, where the insurance company, the other party and I had to share the cost of repair. It left me with an experience I would never forget and without a car for over 20 days! It sometimes made me wonder whether I was better off without a car.

I have always wondered about the psyche of these people. How many every times have we seen cars while waiting at the traffic lights, to slowly inch ahead and almost stand bang in the middle of the cross section of the road obstructing the way of other cars! All this, just to ensure that they are the first ones to zip ahead of other cars when the lights turn green, as though following any other car is below their dignity!

One of the important things which expatriate drivers in Saudi Arabia need to keep in mind is to control one's road rage. There are a lot of idiots on the road and if someone wants the first right of way, give him the same rather than trying to compete with him. And finally, do wear your seat belts, keeping in mind that you have a family back home waiting for you. Wishing you a safe driving in the year ahead!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello Expat Guru,

Wonderful article. Please let me know if I can put these articles on my site. regards

Aala

Expatguru said...

Aala,

Thanks for your comments. May I know the URL of your site?

John said...

//How many every times have we seen cars while waiting at the traffic lights, to slowly inch ahead and almost stand bang in the middle of the cross section of the road obstructing the way of other cars! //

You said it, pal!

Anonymous said...

Hello Guru

Aala here. with regards to permission to reprint your articles my domain will be saudiexpatriates.com ..

regards

Expatguru said...

Aala,

You may reprint articles from my blog provided you mention the name of this blog as the source.

Anonymous said...

Thank you guru, thats very kind of yours. Also guru, I will be making one more site and will put these articles there also. I will surly include source as your esteemed blog. I will be in touch with you as i need suggestions.

Thank you.

Aala

gettingmoneywise said...

Hi,
Sorry for dropping an irrelevant comment.

However,saw your comment on labnol.org regarding putting the adsense in middle of the post.you can actually put it whereever you want.infact , adsense just below the title and above the post works great.
Let me know if i could help you with that

Expatguru said...

gettingmoneywise,

Thanks. When I try to arrange the page elements, the 'Add a Gadget' link appears only in specific locations, eg., in the sidebars only (mine is a 3-column blog). Could you help me out on adding a gadget to where I like?

Anonymous said...

hello sir

sorry to draft an irrevelant subject here...first of all i wud like to share a good news with u..today morning i had an appointment with one company head regarding visa..he assured me that i shud take exit from company and his comp will provide me new visa moreover he said that before leaving he will give recommendation letter which i have to show to agent in india....so that he will process my passport...but here i have one confusion about the NOC whether it is still needed in india or not...please guide me in this subject as very soon i have apply for exit...thank you

Expatguru said...

Anonymous,

Please read this

http://workinginsaudiarabia.blogspot.com/2008/11/noc-required-again-for-indians.html

Expatguru said...

Anonymous,

Please read this

http://workinginsaudiarabia.blogspot.com/2008/11/noc-required-again-for-indians.html

Gulfie said...

Dear Expatguru,
Your blog on transfer of driving license is indeed timely and helpful to me. Could you please tell me if the iqama number can be updated in bank accounts. I have a running bank account in Saudi Arabia but it carries my old iqama number which is no longer valid. Can i provide my new iqama number and continue the same account.

Expatguru said...

Gulfie,

Glad to know that my blog was of help to you. Yes, you can continue your account with the new iqama, but you will have to take a copy of your passport attested by your company (rubber stamp) and submit it to your bank.