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Driving in Saudi Arabia

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Pocket GPS Staff
Pocket GPS Staff

Joined: 11/07/2002 14:36:40
Posts: 23848
Location: Hampshire, UK

PostPosted: Thu Jan 29, 2015 9:57 am    Post subject: Driving in Saudi Arabia Reply with quote

As an ex-pat living and working in Saudi Arabia I couldn't help raising an eyebrow and a resigned smile reading the weekly newsletter editorial recently.

The case of the van driver that ran a red light having passed stationary queuing traffic may have seemed outrageous, but it's an all too common event here in Riyadh, where I have lived for the past 4 years. This happens in front of me every few minutes when travelling on Riyadh's road network, something I have to endure for two hours each day.

There are many fatalities with published death rates averaging 19 a day, not to mention the thousands of injuries that could so easily be prevented if the drivers here showed just a little consideration. Oh and a bit of concentration wouldn't go amiss either! Road accidents are the biggest single cause of hospital admissions alone.

So it did not surprise me to the Newsletter article. One of the aspects of working here that I will not miss is the shocking driving behaviour. There are many, many examples but what makes it worse is that it is witnessed countless times by police patrol cars who take no notice and do not proactively police here. Many times I have witnessed cars jumping lights at the same time from all different directions (which would be funny if it was not bordering on lunacy). Whilst at the same time a traffic cop, looking like he has just finished school, lazily perches against his car door, choosing to ignore the potential carnage happening right in front of him.

Or the (insert any emergency vehicle of your choice here) with full blues and twos flashing and blaring in the fast lane, trying to force other drivers out of the way, who moments later is driving slowly along the middle lane, lights and horns still blaring, happily chatting on his mobile phone in no apparent rush until he gets to the next busy junction. It is no wonder that emergency vehicles are largely ignored or used as an opportunity to zip past slower moving traffic.

Or the numerous episodes of the 'Saudi drift', a well-known phenomenon whereby drivers lose any sense of awareness and drift lazily across multiple lanes causing other drivers to take evasive action lest they themselves are forced into other traffic.

Or passing the 10 year old boy at the wheel of a station wagon full of adult family members, trying to peer over the steering wheel and keep a straight line. He must use wooden blocks for the pedals.

You can find countless videos on the web of typical driving out here. It is best summed up for me in an article highlighting how dangerous Saudi roads are as "an unusual, risk taking, no-holds barred way of driving".

When I visit the UK, I find the general standard of road users a timely reminder that I am lucky to have survived on Riyadh's roads for so long. My experience has shown me that UK driving is quite civilised by comparison, notwithstanding the occasional maniac running red lights!

Tony Sheridan
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Darren Griffin - Editor
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Tired Old Man
Tired Old Man

Joined: Feb 27, 2006
Posts: 14874
Location: Keynsham

PostPosted: Thu Jan 29, 2015 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I served two years for Queen and country in Bahrain some 55 years ago and I wasn't a driver at that time. Drivers there had huge american cars, fins from end to end, steering wheels with a horn ring, automatic transmission. It was the standard practise to hit the horn every few yards, they all did it.

So when I got home to Leeds, I stepped off a pavement and had my dufflecoat sleeve ripped off by a car which wasn't blowing its horn! Rolling Eyes

If it tastes good - it's fattening.

Two of them are obesiting!!
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Frequent Visitor

Joined: Feb 18, 2006
Posts: 369

PostPosted: Thu Jan 29, 2015 5:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like Kenyan driving. The good news is that it is consistent. The problem over here is that the really poor driving is random. I find it more relaxing driving in Kenya than East Sussex/Kent as you know the standard of driving and adjust for it. Having said that, the quality of the roads around here are beginning to remind me of those in East Africa.
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Joined: Feb 18, 2005
Posts: 82
Location: Manchester

PostPosted: Fri Jan 30, 2015 12:30 pm    Post subject: 'ex pat' driving experiences Reply with quote

I lived / worked in the Middle East for 8 years - '76-'84. 1st year in Bahrain, then Dubai based travelling all over Middle East , Far East & Africa from Dubai. The Saudi tale is all too common in those parts. You consider yourself lucky to survive. Many expats didn't. Not surprising when I witnessed a spectacle at a renew driving licence office in the Middle East. My Indian 'fixit' man was doing the running about for me at various desks getting paperwork sorted. I spotted a bunch of Asian guys get into a car with a police sargeant who literally could only have driven round the block before they were back - all smiles and slapping each other on the back with glee. I asked my fixit man what all the celebrations were for. 'They all passed their driving test , sir' was the reply. It is no wonder the driving is as bad as it is - the 'test' is non-existent - merely a fee paid !!
I have encountered Bangladeshi waiters here in UK who ask if it possible to 'buy a driving licence' - like they can overseas !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Worst driving I encountered overseas in that time? Baghdad, Cairo, Bombay.
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Pocket GPS Moderator
Pocket GPS Moderator

Joined: Jan 14, 2005
Posts: 19638
Location: Blackpool , Lancs

PostPosted: Fri Jan 30, 2015 10:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just to add to the Saudi driving experiance which I have first hand experiance of in the past 12 months:

The road surfaces tend to be polished concrete, which, when wet are similar to that you can experiance on a UK skid pan. Combine this with large heavy cars with plenty of power running on bald tyres you can imagine what happens when it rains. Rain equals lots of multiple crashed vehicles, what really amused me was all the drivers put their cars hazzard lights on when it rains but they don't slow down! With little if any drainage the roads soon flood, on one occasion I saw a Saudi national sat on his car roof with the car in about three feet of rain water that had collected in the lower portion of a motorway underpass, he had hit this at speed looking at the state of his car, we turned around and went cross country to avoid the problem.

Driving at night in Saudi, don't be surprised to have a car heading towards you on the wrong side of the road with no lights on, I have experianced this twice, once on the slip road to Taif International airport, it was quite funny when we got to the security check point.

Lane hopping is to be expected and you need to be on guard at all times to expect the unexpected, Central London is easy compared to Saudi.

Next on my list is the state of hire cars out there, we booked a car through Avis International with pick up from Jeddah airport, it is fair to say the only straight panel on the vehicle was the roof everything else had dents / damage. Hardly any fuel in the tank but petrol is cheap out there, and rear wheel bearings that made a huge racket above 100 KPH.

As for using Nav apps out in Saudi, I dowloaded and installed Sygic for Saudi to my mobile Android based phone, it worked very well but some of the local rules took time to get used to such as joining their equivilant of a Motorway heading in the wrong direction for a few miles and then performing a U turn. Believe it or not thats what they do. Yes I got lost driving out there but once I fired Sygic up and followed it the nav package got me back on the correct road.
If I can find the screen captures I made while driving with nav package I will add them to this post, driving through the Escarpment on the climb up to Taif is facinating, a great engineering feat to put a dual carriageway that is fully illuminated up a 6000FT climb in a few miles, camels at the bottom and Baboons at the top along with man made palm trees - Mike
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