Car-nage

In his weekly piece for Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim takes a look at the extraordinary toll exacted on Saudi roads. With well-engineered roads and streets and access to the latest and safest automobiles, he says, Saudi Arabia still leads the world in highway fatalities.

He offers a few ideas about how to gain control over the roads and commenters offer a few more. I’ll chip in with a couple of ideas, too.

First, I think that driver eduction needs to be taken far more seriously. Young Saudi drivers are missing something that other nation’s drivers have: a long history of being in cars. Until the 1960s, most Saudis could never dream of owning a car. Then, with a torrent of money entering the economy through petroleum sales, it seemed that just about anyone could buy a vehicle. And buy it they did, without the slightest idea of traffic laws or the purposes behind them. They were all self-taught.

Taking myself as an example, far before I got my first drivers license, I was learning about cars, roads, and traffic. I did this from a very early age by simply being a passenger in cars driven by my parents. I learned that there were rules of the road and that there were people who didn’t pay much attention to them. By hearing my father – and yes, my mother – cursing out the idiot drivers, I learned that there were idiot drivers, that there were reasons why traffic rules existed, and that cars and roads could be dangerous. By the time I was learning to drive, I was being told that in the eyes of the law, cars could be considered, under some circumstances, lethal weapons. Having neighbors or schoolmates die in cars made the lessons real.

Saudi drivers, on the whole, lacked this organic education. Today’s young drivers may have older drivers available to share experience, but those older drivers did not get that education and cannot, therefore, pass it on.

Making it much more difficult and/or expensive to get a license would be a good first step. Longer drivers education, starting in high school courses would help. And yes, it should be a required course for both male and female students. Making car insurance more expensive for younger drivers might help as well. While their parents would likely be footing the bill, having more at stake always tends to make people more cautious about losing it.

Young males (and females, to a lesser extent) of all nationalities seem to have ideas about their own immortality. They may express that sentiment in different ways, but all lack some ability to consider a future in which they no longer play a part. That can’t be changed by any government program, but only by maturity. Education, however, can be changed to make consequences more visible, more real to youth.

Saudi Arabia’s open wound: Highway fatalities
ABDULATEEF AL-MULHIM

For the past 20 years, I don’t remember a month without hearing about a fatal car accident which involved someone I knew. The sad thing about it is, this is true for almost all Saudis.

This week is the Arab Gulf states traffic week. The Gulf states have been holding this annual driving awareness event for many years. This years motto is (Working together to reduce car accidents). But, the question is, why do we need a traffic awareness event? Driving safely is an everyday must.

Saudi Arabia is a country covering little less than a million square miles. There are thousands of miles of highways connecting all cities, towns and remote area. Saudi Arabia has a complex road system in major cities. Some of the major highways are 2, 3 and 4 lanes highway. The size of highways are huge and beautiful and meeting any international standards. The streets of cities and towns are very big compared with many roads outside Saudi Arabia. Saudi families in general have the latest car models and Saudi import cars from all over the world. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries where you would see the best and latest models in the world. Also, there is general inspection of every car annually or a maximum of three years. This is to ensure the vehicle is good for the roads. Thus the question is still why does Saudi Arabia have the highest highway fatalities in the world?