Friday, October 15, 2010

the 5 things about driving in saudi arabia that will eventually get us killed

America, I don't think you realize what you have. I'm not talking about freedom, justice, or the right to super size your McDonald's meal for an only 40 cents (is it still 40 cents? i mean, the economic crisis affected us all). No, I'm talking about the transportation situation. The traffic laws (both legislated and unspoken), the turn lanes, the 4-way stops, the shoulders, and the fact that you don't honk the very second that the light turns green! Yesterday I drove to the bookstore and it was, for lack of a better word, terrifying.

Pictured: Me. (Re-enactment)

So here is my list of the things that are probably going to lead to a major accident here in Saudi.

1. There is no such thing as a traffic lane.
There is a fundamental flaw with driving in Saudi. There are sometimes (and I stress the sometimes) lines painted on the motorways that separate lanes here. But they are, for the most part, totally and completely ignored. So far I have seen driving on the shoulder, betwixt lanes, and pretty much anywhere you can fit a Toyota Camry...or a bus. This often means switching lanes every five or ten seconds. Which can become very, very dangerous. Now, one would think, well then, I'll just drive in the right hand lane and people will pass on the right, no problem. But then someone comes driving 90 miles an hour along the shoulder, honking at you for going only 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. I shudder, just thinking about it.

2. Speeding is essential to staying alive.
As most of you are aware, I drive like an old woman. That means I drive the speed limit. I have been known to drive 5 over on the interstate, but I believe that is pretty much the speed limit and nobody will ever pull you over for going 5 over on the interstate. Here...well...the speed limit on the motorway is 100 km/hour. Everybody goes at least 120. I have literally never seen a police officer driving on this motorway (probably because it is so horrifying) and therefore, no need for anyone to slow down. This creates the necessity to drive to match the speed of traffic (see, Dad? I was paying attention while you were teaching me to drive). So driving really fast has to happen. While driving though, one truth becomes immediately obvious: no matter how fast you're going, someone is going to blow past you going faster.

See? That guy doesn't even have his lights on!

3. If the light is green and you're not moving, honk.
At first, this doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but it is infuriating. The moment that the light turns green (and by the way, there's no line to tell you where to stop) people start honking at you. This doesn't matter if you're 4 cars back from the first one, the guy behind you starts honking right when the light turns green. This seems to be the perfectly normal thing to do...but it makes the inner road raging incredible hulk in me want to come out. They wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

4. Traffic stops for no apparent reason.
This happens in the US a lot too. I mean who hasn't been sitting in a traffic jam only to all of a sudden have traffic begin moving. You're looking for the car wreck or the police officer...but you see nothing. No broken glass. Nothing. This happens here a lot. But instead of not seeing anything...there's just a policeman standing in the middle of the street stopping all the cars...and then...letting them go 10 seconds later. Not checking IDs or anything, but just stopping the cars. No idea why. Drivers will also frequently slam on the brakes. Again, for no reason. To compound this problem, you are kind of forced into following other cars closely because if you don't someone is going to swerve into your lane in front of you. So rear ending someone or being rear ended is pretty likely.

5. People are incensed if you don't drive like them.
Seriously. If you don't make a (presumably) illegal turn into oncoming traffic, you're getting lights flashed at you and the honking commences. If you don't cut someone off or go a million miles an hour, you're the horrible driver. In trying to turn left, I was waiting for an appropriate gap, but was only there for 5 seconds before the guy behind me started honking, flashing his lights, and gesturing for me to go. It took a lot of concentration and willpower not to give him the international sign for "hold your damn horses, I'm trying to turn."

I will most certainly discover many grey hairs from driving here. It's not all bad news, though. In about 10 days the Saudi government is putting in cameras that take pictures of people if they're driving is unsafe. They get a HUGE fine. This is supposed to cut down on the crazy driving. However, I'm not holding my breath.

Vicariously yours,


  1. Re: "and the fact that you don't honk the very second that the light turns green!" -- I think you need to amend your post to exclude Boston on that point. Hang in there!

  2. Oh and one more comment: all this bad driving in a country where women aren't allowed to drive? Hm, I'll remember this for the next snide comment I hear about women drivers.

  3. re: Raina's comment: as Kent Watson would say, " True!"

  4. oh wait- does this mean y'all bought a car? I just realized this whole thing was about you driving so that must mean there's a vehicle involved. What did you get?

  5. hilarious. as i was reading this, i just assumed amber had written it. then when i saw T's picture, i was like, "wait, didn't SHE say SHE drives like an old woman?" so tyler, i will always and forever think of you as an old woman.

  6. No no, Elloa, there will be no stories of me driving in Saudi Arabia. It's illegal for women to drive here.

  7. hopefully, Saher will fix it.
    Too many lives lost. Car deaths in Saudi Arabia in a year are more than war deaths in Iraq. There's a car accident happening in Saudi Arabia every two minutes. There's a person dying from car accidents every 40 minutes.

    In the last 20 years, there's been more than 86,000 deaths in KSA. That's more deaths than in the Indo-Pakistani war, the Black September War, the Western Sahara War, the War of Attrition, the October war, and the Gulf War COMBINED.
    13 billion riyals are lost EVERY YEAR!