A few months ago we passed by a small crowd around a dead body lying on the median on main Olaya street, the feet sticking out from under a blue sheet- a traffic casualty.

Saudi Arabia has AWESOME roads and an extremely high traffic accidents and fatality rate. It subsequently also has one of the highest spinal cord injury cases in world . Crossroads blog recently referenced the Saudi Gazette regarding the cause of Saudi road problems to be a “clash of driving cultures“.

It is odd to blame the clash of culture because it ignores the simple fact that there are traffic laws. Traffic laws (in every country) are the equalizer for all cultures. If they are enforced, EVERYONE follows them, regardless of where they come from, and what they are used to doing.

The majority of chauffeurs here are from Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh etc). One can claim that these people are used to crazy traffic from their home countries however they are also the majority of cab drivers in places like NYC and DC where they follow the traffic laws. The worst offenders that I have seen are actually Saudi youth. Saudi men driving their families tend to be slightly better.

The fact of the matter is, traffic laws are not enforced in KSA. If they were, some of these commonly seen phenomenon would be controlled and traffic accidents could be reduced.

  • Aggressive driving between lanes rather than within the clearly marked lanes
  • Underage driving (one can see kids so young that they can barely see above the steering wheel)
  • Making left turns from the right-most lanes at intersections
  • Lane changes without indication (at high speeds)
  • ATVs being driven in and out of traffic, and also on sidewalks by youth in the weekends
  • Doing all these crazy things at high speeds!
  • Not using seatbelts
  • Driving with children sitting in laps

There is no shortage of traffic police around here and there are  many impromptu checkpoints that hold up traffic, however there is still not enough enforcement for the actual laws (but it’s possible as we evidenced once, or alternatively as can be seen by the no cellphone/mobile law that was recently passed- several people got ticketed, including expats and one sees fewer offenders now).

People who violate the laws should be ticketed, with no exemptions based on “wasta”. Repeat offenders should have their licenses revoked. Kids caught driving should be fined and their parents should be forced to attend driving safety classes. One of the things we will see is drivers being docked by their owners for traffic fines. Yes, it will be hard for them to pay it considering how low their wages are anyway, however it will result in drivers becoming more cautious. It will take a few cases before all drivers will start to be careful.

An example of a country where some new safety laws were recently introduced is Pakistan (infamous for its insane driving). Some years ago a new seatbelt law was enforced in Islamabad. At first people resisted but after many people started getting ticketed, it is now becoming the norm. At first there were education campaign and warnings. Eventually the grace period was over and the law was in effect. Now, the majority of cars in Islamabad use seat belts. If Pakistan can start to improve, surely it’s possible in KSA!

It is unrealistic to expect that traffic will suddenly be perfect but enforcement would certainly help.