(MENAFN - Arab News) 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?
At present, Saudi Arabia loses about 7,000 people annually, Saudis and non-Saudis. The number of injured is more than 36,000. The cost of taking care of injured due to road accidents is in the billions of riyals. Nowadays, highway fatalities became a national problem. We don't doubt the government's efforts to reduce it. But, good driving behavior is the responsibilities of everyone, the drivers, the parents, traffic police and schools. Our efforts are not enough at this stage.
The Saudi youth simply took the fun out of driving. We see very young men as young as 15 years old driving. And there is very bad habit which Saudi youths are very well known to have. It is called joy riding (tafheet). Many of these young men don't know the effect on the tires threads. The tires become weaker than normal tires. Thousands of families lost their young ones to this bad and dangerous habit. There are parents who couldn't recover from their grief. They saw some of their loved ones die or being paralyzed for life. The financial burden can't be fathomed and the emotional feeling of the mother and father is beyond any imagination. But, are there any solutions for this national tragedy? The answer is yes. If other countries with more cars can do it, then Saudi traffic authorities can do it.
Saudi traffic departments introduced speed checking cars (Saher). These cars are fitted with laser speed detector and a flash camera. If you pass it cruising at higher speed than what is posted, it will automatically get the license plate number and will send the driver a message to let him know about the violation and the amount of the traffic violation penalty. This is a good system, but it is not enough. These cars are stopped at the side of the road. When it flashes at a speeding car, the other vehicles will simply slow down and speed up again. But, we all know that when a diver is going 20 kilometer over the speed limit in a brand new Lexus, he is less dangerous than a young man's car passing you from the left side while driving on the highway shoulder. The men who are manning these cars are private sector employees and can't give a violation ticket to anyone who drives dangerously.
The other important factor is why people are always in a rush? Being in rush will not allow the driver to concentrate. In Saudi Arabia, we must evaluate our street engineering system. We have to know what is the traffic volume in any wide and busy street. And see how many cars per minute passes a certain point. Also, we have to make laws tougher for traffic violators. There should be point calculation against any traffic violation. And we need to see some drivers suspended from driving. In Saudi Arabia, it is unfortunate not to see the family having any role in their children's behavior. We see very young men leaving the homes without the knowledge of the family. And they are not monitored properly. We see many families are giving their children a car at an early age. But, they don't teach them how to respect the others on the road. And they have to know when they have the right of way. Even a green light is not necessary and OK for you to proceed. There could be someone who is not paying attention to the road. Also, there could be an ambulance or fire truck crossing. They have the right of way, not you.
Saudi traffic authority also must change the laws of the fender bender (minor accidents). You can't block a whole busy intersection because two cars barely had a scratch on the fenders and you have to wait for a long time for the investigators to report the accident. We lost tens of thousands of citizens and expatriates on the highway and in our streets. We have to teach our young men that, a car is a transportation machine, not a killing machine. And my final question is, why do we see Saudi drivers behave in better manners on Saudi Aramco streets or outside the Kingdom? The answer is: Far more tougher laws.