Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Maniacs Galore

A couple of days ago I was driving through downtown Salalah as usual, on my way home from work. As I neared a major intersection, a 25 seater bus passed me dangerously on the left in order to speed through the intersection before the lights changed.

I could tell from a mile off that there was no way either of us would make it and as I predicted the bus braked suddenly at the lights and slowed down. When I drove up, I noticed the bus was full of small children in school uniform. Some had their arms and heads hanging out of the huge open windows and others were hanging out of the door.

I thought I must be hallucinating, so when the light turned green I followed the bus through town until it slowed down to let a couple of kids off. To my utter astonishment and horror, the idiot behind the wheel was driving with the bus door wide open. A child who looked no more than six years old was sitting on the fold-out chair right in front of the door.

One tiny accident or even an encounter with a rough speed bump and that child would have been tossed out of the bus. I felt nauseated, so I pulled over but the bus sped off just as I was taking down its details. I called the emergency hotline and the efficient ROP officer who answered after the first ring told me to write down the licence plate number and file a complaint at the nearest police station.

I have seen thousands of maniacs on the road in my short four years as a driver, but that school bus driver takes the cake for utter recklessness and stupidity. After consulting with family members, I decided to first find out which school the bus belongs to. Salalah is a decent-sized town but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to locate the bus. Once I find out, I will pay the school principal a visit and then report the driver to the police depending on the outcome of my visit. I won't let this rest until I make sure those innocent children's safety is addressed.

Do you think I'm over-reacting? Unfortunately, I have seen enough car accidents and corpses these past few years to last me a lifetime. A couple of years ago I was in Muscat for a photography workshop. Just after sunrise, I was standing at my hotel room window trying to get a shot of the mountains when I noticed through my viewfinder a little blue car going at an insane speed down the road.

The car hit the kerb, flipped over six times and crashed a few metres away from my window. The body of a young man flew out of the car and landed in a heap on the sidewalk. Clearly hadn’t bothered fastening his seatbelt that morning. As people ran out of nearby shops and restaurants to help, I just stood there feeling numb and continued pressing the shutter button. It was all I could do.

For an hour, I stood there taking shot after shot. I watched as the restaurant owner checked for a pulse and shook his head. I watched as the police and ambulance arrived. I watched as they loaded the corpse into the ambulance and as the father of the young man arrived and identified the body. I watched as he stumbled out of the ambulance and covered his face with both his hands, sobbing.

The police officer touched his shoulder gently and offered condolences. I watched as the ambulance drove off and as he gathered his son's things from the car. I watched him leave just as the tow truck was arriving to take what remained of the car away. The last shot I took was of the municipality cleaner in orange uniform sweeping up the shards of broken glass from the sidewalk. All it took was an hour and life on that street went back to normal…except for me. All I could feel was a deep emptiness. I had watched someone die.

Since that day, my driving has never been the same. Every time I leave the house, I prepare to die. Pessimist? Not really. I'm just being realistic. I'm a very careful driver and I never speed, but apparently that doesn't matter here. No matter how careful you are in Oman, there are enough maniacs on the road to ensure your chances of getting killed on your way to work are high.

I see a car accident at least twice a week during rush hour. I also spot at least five or six people talking on the phone while out driving at any given time. As for speeding, I won't even begin to count the number of speed-crazed delinquents who cross my path every day. The number of road accidents in Oman has been increasing at an alarming rate. Every year hundreds of people die in car accidents, but people just don’t seem to get it.

When are Omanis going to wake up and realise how many lives they endanger every day with their reckless driving? We need higher fines and a strict point system where drivers lose their driving licence temporarily or permanently depending on the number of points in their traffic offence record. Road safety is a collective responsibility. From time to time I look at those photos to remind myself of the fragility of life. I’ve had my wakeup call. What about you?


  1. The accident of the young man must have been a shocking thing to see.
    Road safety needs to be taught from a young age. In Muscat, for example, young children ride motor bikes that dont look roadworthy. They often have two people on them. They zip in and out of traffic. The riders do not wear crash helmets, they dont have licences or insurance and probably have never been taught how to drive (all of which are required to drive legally in Oman) .
    They have to be not only a danger to themselves but of course to other road users.
    The money to buy the motor bikes came from their parents.
    The children are learning at a young age that road safety is unimportant and that lesson is difficult to unlearn later on in life; and like that young man it may never be learnt.

  2. I couldn't agree more Susan. We keep hearing about road safety awareness campaigns, but there also need to be consequences for driving badly. I completely agree that a points system should be introduced so that drivers will eventually lose their licence if they continue to break the law. I never see drivers pulled over by the police for their reckless behaviour. It seems like everyone is free to do what they like. It is so selfish as they are endangering not only themselves but other innocent people. I've lost count of how many times some idiot has been driving about an inch behind me at a crazy speed. I can't go faster because there's traffic in front of me. Where the hell do they want me to go? It's terrifying. If I had to brake they would smash into the back of me. Do people have no regard for their lives or do they just assume that it will be OK (inshallah!). How overused that word is when it comes to things like this. Take some responsibility for yourselves and for your children!!!

  3. Scooters, motor bikes, fast cars, quad bikes - all bought by irresponsible parents. Why can't these children be rounded up, vehicles impounded and dear baba spend 6 months in jail. If the child has got someone to guarantee the loan, then child can go to jail, car impounded and the fool who guaranteed the loan can pay off the money. It would stop the problem in a matter of weeks. It's the same with school bus drivers - cameras on school routes, bus impounded and driver jailed.

  4. Have seen a steady increase in these kinds of accidents where the one and only villain is recklessness and "need for speed". Btw-Love your way of writing and the emotions that it conveys.Kudos and keep it up.

  5. I live in Salalah and am in the car 2 hrs a day driving my kids to and from school. Your example of the school bus is a scene I see every single day, multiple times a day. I drop my kids off at school in Dahariz where there are 2 other schools. Not only the bus drivers drive like maniacs but also the parents.
    You know what, even though I see at least 1 car accident/ day I'm actually amazed that I've never seen anyone get killed!

    My question is: Why don't the police do anything about it????? They are on the road too. They see what happens but just leave it as it is. WHY?????

  6. Nothing will happen to the bus driver till someome is killed or seriously injured. Good luck with the cause.

  7. the biggest problem is the backwards mindset that everything is in god's hands...the worst maniac drivers are mutawwas...sickening

  8. Oman needs to scrap it's current driving instructor methods and implement one similar to the UK. No one should be able just to wander into the Ministry, pay the fee, install dual controls and then be a driving instructor. There should be a course, proper certification, etc.

    The driving laws also need to be ramped up with more coppers on the roads and more people being fined with heavy fines, not silly little things. Perhaps even bring in a points system similar to UK (not Dubai) and actually take their licenses away from them. If you catch them on the streets with no license/insurance then take their car off of them. If the car is not roadworthy or being driven in an insane manner, do the person for wreckless driving and repossess the car. Pictures obviously arn't working, so get families of car crash victims in to Schools to talk to the kids about it, maybe even do a bit of theatrics with an old car-crash and some mannequins...


  9. Everyone is in God's hands indeed - that's why he's given you a brake and a seatbelt. What he cannot do is force you to use them....

  10. Can't believe the number of maniac drivers on the crowded beach in Salalah today! One nearly hit one of my kids. Why are 4x4 cars even ALLOWED on the beach here. Don't the drivers care about the innocent kids that are at risk?

    When is Oman going to wake up and do something about these reckless divers?