(MENAFN - Arab News) An expert has warned that the figure for road accident fatalities in the Kingdom is dangerously high and can be compared to the number of victims in war-torn countries.
Asrar Al-Awami, an Information Systems specialist said in a meeting organized recently by the Social Development Center in Qatif entitled 'My driving is safe' that "Traffic accidents of such proportions can be termed as street terrorism where statistics indicate that the number of accident related fatalities in the Kingdom is about 6,400 cases annually which translates to a daily average of 18 deaths per day." The number of those injured is almost 68,000 annually.
She said that women, despite not being allowed to drive, share a large part of the responsibility of educating and raising awareness of safe driving among their husbands, sons and brothers.
She pointed out that the main causes of road accidents apart from speeding were negligence of car maintenance; the reckless behavior of some drivers and passengers with regards to talking to their partners or friends for long periods while driving; and distractions by children fighting or playing while the car is moving causing the driver to lose focus. Accidents happen in the blink of an eye, she said.
"Studies indicate that about 90 percent of the accidents are caused because of the careless behavior of the driver or the passengers," she added.
Commenting on reckless driving habits, Al-Awami said they include the sudden and unwarranted changing of lanes or weaving through traffic to get to the green signal quickly.
She stressed that women should educate themselves about traffic rules so that they can guide their families. This is crucial in Saudi society where very young children take the wheel without really understanding the social responsibility that comes with it.
Al-Awami also cited the need to fasten the safety belt both for the driver and the passenger. Female passengers in the Kingdom do not normally use the safety belt and there is no penalty for not doing so.
She added that the rule regarding newly-born babies should be implemented firmly where mothers should not be discharged until the hospitals make sure that there is an infant seat available in the car.
With regard to school buses, Al-Awami said, "School administrations should hire drivers with a certain criterion in mind. The drivers should be healthy and experienced with a fair measure of tolerance. Their vehicle should ve a register with a list of the names of the children, the names and addresses of their guardians and numbers to call in emergencies."
"Buses should also have a supervisor accompanying the driver who shares his responsibility. Both the driver and the supervisor should be equipped with specialized training in safety systems, security and first aid."
"Children should also be taught how to protect themselves in case of an accident and how to exit if the automatic doors lock themselves or if they are left alone and attended on the bus," Al-Awami said. Children should also know how to turn on the headlights of the bus at night and to use the vehicle's horn during the day.
Al-Awami mentioned the two tragic school bus accidents in 2008 and in 2013. She added that the families should follow up the cases to check the safety of the bus, ensure that the driver waits until the child is received by his or her family. The bus should also adhere to the limit set for the number of passengers boarding the vehicle.
Al-Awami also showed a series of documentaries to draw the audience's attention to the errors that lead to traffic accidents.
The aim of the program organized by the Center of Development in Qatif is to provide a safe environment for children free from road hazards and instill a sense of responsibility in the public; to adopt international standards for child safety while urging kindergarten and daycare facilities to strictly follow the safety rules especially during the entry and exit of children on buses.
The Saudi General Department of Traffic described traffic accidents in the Kingdom as no less dangerous than organized criminal terrorism, noting that the Kingdom occupies first place in the number of road accidents worldwide. Besides the loss of lives, road accidents account for almost 13 billion riyals lost in infrastructure.
The rise in injuries due to road accidents depletes health resources where one-third of the capacity of government hospitals is mobilized to take care of the injured and occupancy of hospital beds is estimated at 30 for every 100 beds.
The number of accident related victims in the Kingdom has increased in the past two decades. The latest reports count the toll of victims at 86,000 people which exceeds the number of war victims in Argentina, the Western Sahara, war between India and Pakistan, the Gulf War, the civil war in Nepal and the war of independence in Croatia which totaled 82,000 people.