Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Time for Action

Published September 11, 2012 - Muscat Daily. Click here to view the article on their website.

Nearly 800 people have died in around 6,000 car accidents in Oman this year even though it's only September. When looking at worldwide statistics, you'll realize with horror that countries ten or even 20 times the population size of Oman have fewer accidents and even fewer deaths.

I spent the month of July in a western country with a population of 35mn and I never saw one accident during my entire stay there. Since my return to Oman, I have witnessed at least one accident per day!

The population of Oman is less than 3mn. Over half a million are under the age of 17. Furthermore, many women don't drive, and our several hundred thousand labourers probably don't own cars. Do the math. There aren't that many drivers out there.

This national crisis has been discussed endlessly over the past few years, and we have witnessed many awareness campaigns pleading with citizens to drive carefully. Despite these efforts, collisions and fatalities are on the rise.

To prepare for this column, I decided to monitor the number of maniacs who graced my seven-minute drive to work a couple of days ago. I counted 13 drivers zooming in and out of lanes without indicating, tailgating at 100 kmph, pulling out without bothering to judge speed of oncoming cars, and reckless overtaking.

After many discussions with colleagues and friends, the general consensus seems to be that our road problem – simply put - is an attitude problem. As far as I'm concerned, expensive awareness campaigns are essential but they will never be enough. They aren't going to fix the attitude of a nation. Rules are.

Assuming Oman established a new Ministry of Logic and I was appointed minister, this would be my action plan:

1) First and foremost, I would enforce the law. Believe it or not, laws do exist in Oman. Did you know that you could spend between one and five years behind bars for speeding, endangering others on the road, or reckless overtaking? It's in the ROP Traffic Law. Why such a law isn't being enforced regularly baffles me. If you're worried that there aren't enough prison cells, set up temporary prison camps. That would solve many of our problems instantly.

2) I would bring down the speed limit on most inner-city highways from 100 to 80kmph. Clearly we're not responsible enough to handle anything above 80kmph.

3) Fines for not wearing a seatbelt would increase to RO50 for the driver and adult passengers (current fine is RO10), and RO100 for anyone under the age of 18 without a seatbelt. That would prevent more than a few deaths.

4) I would introduce new speeding ticket regulations. Currently, going 35kmph over the speed limit can cost you only RO5-10. Going 60kmph over the speed limit costs about RO40, and a mind-blowing 80kmph over the speed limit can cost you as little as RO50, I kid you not. The lives of everyone sharing the road with that 200kmph murderer are worth only RO50. In order to control speeding, fines must be significant enough to damage people financially. That's the only way things will change.

5) I would make car seats mandatory for every child under the age of four. In case you haven't noticed, babies in Oman often occupy the front passenger seat, some even on the driver's lap! Contrary to popular belief, children aren't protected by voodoo.

6) Road safety would become an official part of school curriculum. Seatbelts on school buses would become mandatory for each and every child.

7) I would increase the number of high-tech speed cameras and red-light systems.

8) Texting and holding a cellphone while driving would land you immediately in jail for three to five days in solitary confinement. Guaranteed you'll never do it again. By distracting yourself with a phone, you endanger the lives of others. You are therefore a potential murderer and deserve to be punished.

9) I would establish a National Driving Academy. The mandatory programme for obtaining a drivers' licence would include 100 hours of road practice, lectures, videos and demonstrations to show what takes place in a car during an accident, basic car mechanics, safety instruction, and a few mandatory hours in the emergency room at a local hospital. Furthermore, passing the driving exam should be a grueling experience.

10) The new laws would be introduced three months before they are implemented. I would launch an intensive national awareness campaign to ensure every citizen is aware of the new rules. That should do the trick.

I know my rules seem a little harsh, but when you're dealing with irresponsible humans with attitude problems, harsh is the way to go. I've seen enough tragedies recently to know that the carnage has got to stop. If there are no serious consequences, there will be no change. The magnitude of the problem will likely increase because impending demographic changes will produce a dramatic rise in the number of young drivers over the next few years. Let's not wait until it's too late!

PS ( this question was not published in the newspaper, but if you were involved in preparing an action plan, what other rules would you include? I'm interested)

26 comments:

  1. Gr8 article Susan. I totaly agree with ur views. Also illegal motorcyles driven by kids should be banned. Lately guys in cycles are big headache on the road in Salalah. To save them other drivers do mistake. They do not follow any rules and not bothered to look behind.

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  2. Why isn't someone in a position of authority reading this? What is stopping them from taking action? The ROP can SEE all the speeding records on their fancy little cameras but they're doing NOTHING except fine people and get a lot of money. Seriously, complete BS.

    Ali

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    1. Yes, why is it being left to a blogger on a national newspaper to state the obvious? Can anyone explain why nobody with any power is willing to act on this? Who is the Minister responsible?

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  3. Susan,

    I would train officers to not fear Wasta and connections and rude young men.

    Ellen

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  4. Definitely the National Driving Academy!!

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  5. Jess, you may email me directly at susan.alshahri(at)gmail.com

    :)

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    1. There are also changes to vehicles that would help.

      All vehicles should have a red warning light set midway on the rear windshield. This would be on at all times. Also car's driving lights would work at 50% brightness whenever the engine is running.
      ALL buses should have a speed controller with a maximum speed of 85 km/hr..
      All new drivers should have to display a NOVICE DRIVER sign displayed for one year after passing driving test.
      A point system for traffic violations must be put in place. 3 points accrue for each violation. When you have 12 points your insurance would skyrocket. Drivinis ning without insurance would result in your car being impounded for 6 months.
      New cars should have a mechanism that prevents GSMs from working while the car is in motion.

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  6. Why not all vehicle have speed limiters fitted so that it's not possible to go faster than 120km/h?

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  7. proud tailgater w/full makhfiSeptember 11, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    umm your article is very irresponsible in implying you can drive at 200km/h with no fear of the law..I guarantee you will be hauled in and referred to the public prosecutor to face up to 2 years in prison if caught driving at that speed, there was even an article in the paper stating this a few weeks ago.

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    1. It's an everyday occurence. We all know that. The penalties are never enforced.

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    2. A very constructive article. It is amazing to hear that any driving laws exist at all in this country.

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    3. Just yesterday I saw drag racing from the same people employed to enforce those laws. One car male trying to catch up to the females in the other car. Flirting, how on earth?!? Nothing better to do?

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  8. On three occasions this week, at the same round-about (the one that leads to the University) that is monitored by police during rush hour, I witnessed what in Europe would land you a big fine.

    One of them was a guy who thought he was so much more important than everyone else, including the police, IGNORING a signal from the police to stop so other cars could go. He nearly crashed into my car!

    The second one was another Mr. Important who decided to create a 3rd lane in front of the round-about in order to push infront of all the other waiting cars.

    The third and most unbelievable one to me, was a young kid hanging/ standing out of the window while his father was waiting to pull up. The kid waved at the police. The police smiled back....

    In all 3 of these cases, the police did NOTHING!

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    1. Yes, as the blog states, the problem is undoubtedly one of ATTITUDE. That of the police themselves, for sure, but fundamentally of The New Arrogance

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  9. Amen, sister!!!

    lulu

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  10. I love this article so much!!! It needs to go viral! It's great to see an Omani's take on the driving here. It's definitely an "attitude" problem.

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  11. Everytime you renew your car insurance at the police station, a record stating how many times you sent your car to maintenance should be asked for .. some poeple don't care about car maintenance.

    Windows tenting should be banned.

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  12. Time for some 'protests'?

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    1. That would certainly make some sense. In stark contrast...

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  13. I really hope this article will also reach an audience of Omanis in Arabic. That way we might hope for some impact on the populace at large. Great if it goes viral in English - but it really needs to reach the people who can put the ideas into action immediately. As has been said, why the reluctance on high to deal with such a matter of national shame?

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  14. Your action plan would have to involve the Ministry responsible, wouldn't it? But, if there is such a ministry, they don't seem bothered. Is there a mechanism for getting His Majesty to propel this forward? Without that kind of imperative, nothing will happen. As someone said above, the only other recourse would be protests - peaceful, of course. Anything to get the powers-that-be to take this daily death and mayhem seriously

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  15. I was just driving in Salalah and got "flashed" and tailgated by a speeding police car. I was doing 95 on a crowded road where the speed limit is 100 KM/H. The police car ( number 855 on his license plate - just so you know) was't in a hurry to get to the scene of an accident or something because he was only driving 110 km/h and wasn't using his police lights. He just didn't like the fact that I didn't drive fast enough! He also didn't use his indicator lights to switch lanes.

    If this is how the police drives, how can you expect the other road users to stick to the road rules!

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  16. Ms Al Shahri. You know full well the only way to address this issue is from the very top. Why ask for suggestions if you reject the most obvious? Not including all the injured and traumatized, you quoted 800 dead on the roads in this year alone. Of course it has now risen. Since you rejected my post, two of my family have died at the hands of a criminal driver and two children were maimed - front page news in many countries of this size. A bitter irony

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  17. I fully agree.Pluss you should add the points system. Take the license for two years

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  18. Far from alleviating the danger on Oman's roads, the newer and wider highways which are appearing - for now especially around Muscat - are just creating yet another source of danger. It is not surprising as, only too visibly, nobody has been taught to USE a three or four lane system effectively. Worst of all - especially on the Expressway - there is the hazard of humungous lorries, cement mixers and other heavy duty vehicles. In most countries, these occupy a crawler lane or at least have to respect a low speed limit or refrain from overtaking. In Muscat, the two nearside lanes are blocked with these killer heaps of metal - overtaking each other without signalling or warning - whose drivers rule by brute force. As the 'overtaking' lane is taken up with speed freaks going at 160 km an hour or far more, there actually is NOWHERE for a normal, moderate driver to escape to. Can it be possible that there are laws in existence to safeguard safety in these instances too? If not, why not? If so, it's back to the same old question - where ARE the police? And where IS the training? Oman is getting rid of its roundabouts because its drivers are too ignorant, murderous and lawless to use them properly. And yet it is rapidly creating a road system which falls into the same category as the roundabouts - unworkable death traps. What is WRONG here that these issues are not dealt with as in other countries?

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  19. Hi Susan from your friends at the Center for International Learning http://omancenter.org in Muscat. Thank you for your wise ideas about road traffic safety (or lack thereof) in Oman. We recently hosted Ms. Bernadette Bhacker in a lecture for our study abroad students about her organization, Sustainability, LLC, which works to combat the many factors contributing to unsafe roads in Oman. No doubt public education and strong enforcement is needed to make seat belt use more widespread and to eliminate the use of mobile phones while driving. Thanks for addressing this important issue!

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