Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Dangerous & Crazy Streets of Jeddah


In traffic fatalities, Saudi Arabia ranks among the worst in the world.  Other countries in the Middle East and Africa dominate nearly all the top (worst) slots in these rankings.   I have driven since I was 16 and have many years of safe driving experience.  Yet here in Saudi Arabia, because I don’t have a little appendage between my legs, I am prohibited from driving.  But pint-sized boys, some of whom aren’t even out of grade school, and irresponsible reckless youth are allowed to get behind the wheel on the streets of Jeddah.  In fact, many of these young boy drivers who are too young to legally obtain a driver's license are actually given the task of driving the females of the family around the city to go shopping or to school, putting everyone in the car in danger as well as pedestrians and people in other cars.

A young boy navigates the streets of Jeddah while driving a big SUV.

I rarely see anyone in Saudi Arabia buckled up - especially not children, who hang out the cars windows or sun roofs.  I’ve seen many dads driving with little babies sitting on their laps or moms in the front seat holding babies on their laps.  Infant car seats are rarely used, despite the highly questionable claim I read recently in a Saudi Gazette article that only "40% of Saudi families say they do not use child safety seats."  The real number is probably more like 90%. 
A common sight in Jeddah: children sitting on driver's lap or jutting out the sun roof (Photo Credit: M. Eldaly)


The growth of Jeddah has been nothing short of astounding, to say the least.  In the span of just 50 short years, the population exploded from about 50,000 to over 4 million.  This phenomenal pace of growth has not come without its problems however.   Street planning which may have seemed visionary back in the 1960s has proven to be disastrous in accommodating the millions of cars on Jeddah’s roads every day.  And because of the long narrow shape of the city’s layout itself, getting from north to south or vice versa can take hours at peak travel times.  

In the past few years, many of Jeddah's roads have undergone major changes.  Many streets are currently under construction as the municipality dismantles the huge roundabouts which have dominated many of the biggest intersections of the city, replacing them with more efficient overpasses.   These roundabouts – many with four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic - have proven to be a terrible idea in a large city where traffic enforcement is lacking and common driving courtesy is non-existent.   Another problem is that many inexperienced foreign male drivers are brought in to the kingdom to chauffeur around the crippled half of Saudi Arabia's entire population - females who are restricted by law from driving.   I admit that I am trying to be optimistic about the removal of the roundabouts and view it as a necessary step in preparing the city for women drivers.   
The road networking of Jeddah seems to have been purposely designed to make it very difficult for drivers to get from Point A to Point B which results in vehicles taking much longer to get to their destinations, producing congested traffic conditions.   Oftentimes there is no access from one major road intersecting with another major road – sounds crazy, but it’s true.  

Crazy traffic congestion in Jeddah.
Just south and east  of the Mall of Arabia lies a huge juncture where at least 12 different lanes of traffic intersect with each other.  Believe it or not, this intersection is a free-for-all.  Traffic lights are installed at the intersection, but incredibly I have never seen them working - not once! 


One baffling traffic idea that plagues this city is the installation of service roads on many of the larger streets.   Service roads may be a good idea for freeways, but for major streets within busy cities like Jeddah, it's a nightmare.  I just don’t see the need for traffic islands that separate several lanes of traffic headed in the same direction.   Trying to enter or leave the service roads in hectic traffic conditions can be a harrowing experience, since there are not separate access ways to enter or exit.   This means that through the same opening in the island, cars are both entering and leaving the service road from or to a busy main street.   It’s madness.
Many times these service roads are not readily accessible and are easily missed.  This means that many vehicles miss their turnoffs and sometimes have to go many kilometers further in order to get back to where they were going because quite often there is no easy way to turn around.   As a result, traffic becomes heavily congested because it takes so much longer to reach destinations. 
   
From one day to the next, traffic lanes, exits, and entrances are blocked off with huge cement barriers that weren't there the day before.  Every day I see cars driving on the wrong side of the road, mainly because even many smaller streets have dividers with no access to turn around for sometimes several kilometers.  
Cars drive on the wrong side of the streets of Jeddah because center islands have few breaks in which to turn or turn around.
Some exits are not clearly marked either, which confuses drivers.  Many of the exit signs from major roads merely say something like “Corniche” (even though it’s miles from the Corniche) instead of the name of the street and whether it heads north, south, east or west, which is always useful when driving.  


Parking here in Jeddah is always a problem.  It seems to be an after-thought with the many newly constructed buildings, not to mention the old ones.  It is not uncommon to see vehicles double parked or even triple parked in front of businesses or sometimes just parked in the middle of the streets blocking traffic.   Adding to the parking problems are the hundreds of disabled and abandoned vehicles covered in dust that are parked all over the city.

Disabled cars are abandoned all over the streets of Jeddah.
I have seen cars literally drive over the center dividers to turn around.  I have even seen men destroy a section of the divider island to make a place to turn because there is none.  Every day at red lights, I see cars drive up onto the sidewalks on the right side of traffic, endangering pedestrians, so they can position their car in front of the first cars in the lanes of traffic stopped at the red lights.   Drivers here frequently pay no attention to traffic lanes and it’s not unusual to see four lanes of traffic somehow turned into five or six.

One day recently within just five minutes on the road, I witnessed two separate violent incidents of road rage.  First a man on foot in a white thobe carrying a large heavy rod approached and attacked a huge truck stopped on the side of the road.  The man smashed the windows of the truck, dented in the body of the truck, and broke off the rear view mirror.  He tried to open the driver's door but luckily it was locked.  The poor scared driver of the truck slowly moved the truck forward to try to escape the mad man.  Not two minutes later a little further down the same road, I saw two more men in Saudi dress standing outside their vehicles on the side of the road.  They were screaming at each other and then starting pushing and punching one another. 

This out of control man attacked this large truck on Siteen Street in Jeddah, smashing the windows with a large bat.
Traffic rules in Saudi Arabia must be enforced.  The people must be educated about courtesy and safety measures they should take for themselves and their children.  And women need to be allowed to get drivers' licenses and drive.  There is just WAY too much testosterone on the streets of Jeddah! 


26 comments:

  1. Jeddah desperately need a metro system

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    1. Mohamed - You are so right. It would be workable too with separate cars for men and women and families. Although if the men would behave themselves, there would be no need for the separation...

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  2. Now Susie dont' you know you might lose your virginity if they allow you to drive. They did a scientific study on the matter just recently in Saudi. After all it only took a fews days for them to compile the results.

    Oh wait. Your not a virgin......I wonder what their excuse will be now? Can't be safe driver issue as if that was the case then Saudi should be the safest in the world and not the deadliest. Hmmmmmmmmmm..........what could it be??????????? Fear of women leaving Saudi in droves by car loads maybe???????????? That could be it.

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    1. "Fear of women leaving Sadui in droves by car loads" ... lol

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  3. Not about losing their virginity... Its the delusion that all women would become "Women of the night"

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  4. I see women who drive are apparently going to become whores. Apparently women having the right to her sexuality and their own lives is scary for the religious sorts as it is their human right.

    This really tells you the mentality of men or religoius sorts in that neck of the woods which really puts them to the level of less than a dog. The men or religous sorts who support such beliefs should be treated as such world wide as they are a rabid thing to which deserves no respect but condemnation. In civilized societies the dog is the one leashed not the human. Now all you have to do is wait until there are less, less than dogs in Saudi and then ensure they are contained by a leash.

    I do apologies however to all dogs for equating them to the likes of this type of religious sort. Even dogs have more ethics and humanity.

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  5. Sounds like even if I had the choice, I wouldn't want to drive there...

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    1. And that is the problem: women do not have the choice to drive or not here.

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  6. Saudi women drivers on Aramco property are horrible. I hope women are never allowed to drive on public streets in Saudi Arabia. You can educate educate educate but their arrogance surpasses all education. They ignore all traffic laws. They speed. They run stop signs. They drive while veiled and have poor vision. They flout all driving rules. Security seems to leave them alone--men vrs women thing. I truly hope women will not be allowed to drive because believe it or not they are worse drivers than men. I have seen this with my own eyes. BTW I am female, western, and I obey all traffic rules in the kingdom (Aramco) and out.

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    1. Everything you described (ignoring traffic laws, speeding, running stop signs, etc.) I have seen men do here on the streets of Saudi Arabia as well, so your points are moot. Studies have proven that women are safer drivers than men whether you want to believe it or not: http://drivesteady.com/women-are-safer-drivers-than-men and http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/18/nyregion/18drivers.html?_r=0

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  7. Input Bahrain into every instance of Jeddah and it's the same exact thing. People have this "me first,screw you" attitude when it comes to driving, parking, or anything to do with a car. It is mind boggling the absolute disregard for personal safety, the safety of children, pedestrians, and other drivers in these countries.

    And when asked, how many of them say...if I am meant to die then nothing can stop it...if I'm not then why worry?

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    1. Hi Coolred - I've recently read some articles about the driving situation in other ME countries and it's pretty bad. Hearing the old excuse of "it's God's will" that my baby flew thru the windshield out of my arms is so lame. Certainly they must know if the baby is buckled up safely in a car seat, that won't happen. Doesn't God want us to take precautions so things like that don't happen? How about a little responsibility for our own actions?

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    2. It actually sounds like they live like this:

      There was a guy drowing in the ocean. He prayed to God to save him.

      A few minutes later a boat came and offered to pick him up and take him to shore. The drowning man refuesed and the boat left.

      Another boat came and offered to save the man and he said no, and the boat left.

      Finally a third boat came and said I can help you. Once again the drowing man said no.

      When he died he said to God: I trusted you. Why didn't you save me??
      God said: I sent you 3 boats!!!!!!!!!!


      So the moral of the story is that even God expects you to do something to save you own hide otherwise you deserve to die, get injuried, or insert other non- pleasant life event.

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    3. Yes Susie and Coolred,
      I thought, many years ago, a good campaign for seatbelt use would be, "Tie your Camel First." And link it pictorally to tying the camel, and putting on the seatbelt. And that is just the start or passenger safety, how do you even address the driving?

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  8. Hi Susie,
    You wonderfully explained reality in Saudi better than engineers themselves, but let me ask A curious question . Do you still want to drive after all this !

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    1. Hi Free Spirit! I would definitely give it a try, especially during off peak hours. I would appreciate just having the choice and the option of driving.

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  9. I can imagine the safety of Saudi roads would be a real impediment to many women driving, but that should be no excuse. Women can make that judgement themselves. When my wife moved from central MN to the NYC area she decided not to drive until she got used to the traffic.

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  10. Cars and Men,bad engineering of roadways by men, arrogance because they are men,fear because they are men, weapons carried by men ie bats, etc for no other reason than to be ready to attack, and, of course, men making life awful for everyone including men!

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  11. Susie,

    I'm curious. Why do Saudi women just sit there and not protest against the way their husbands, fathers, sons, etc. drive. They (women) want to drive. If allowed to do so, would Saudi have an increase in majnoon drivers?

    I live in Ha'il and I've seen everything you showed expect the attacks/fights, alhmadulillaah.

    My husband has to pratically like them in order for us not to run over.

    Allaah help us all, ameen.

    Btw, I wear my seatbelt and make du'a everytime I get into any vehicle in this country.

    Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. I'm sure that many women speak up about the way men drive here. But some cannot because of fear. I remember shortly after I first arrived here, we were behind another car at a red light. The driver's door opened, a man got out and went around the vehicle to the passenger door and opened it. He then began punching the woman seated in the front passenger seat. I couldn't believe my eyes. I don't know what provoked the man, but I would doubt that this woman and others like her would be able to complain about the way men drive here...
      At any rate, I'm glad to hear that you wear your seatbelt!

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    2. Time for women to learn some serious self defense and techniques for permanent disability on the attacker. Women can be excellent fighters and cause permanent damage to the attacker with some understanding of the body and good techniques.

      http://offgridsurvival.com/defendingyourselffromattac/

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  12. It was chilling to see those children hanging out of the car. I'm amazed that you've been able to adapt yourself to live there in Saudi Arabia. It's such a different way of life.

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  13. As one told me, Saudi Arabia is a religous place, with no Muslims. Saudi Arabians in general are uneducated, narrow minded, and complete hypocrites. Hypocrisy runs in their veins. We cannot consider them true muslims, because they have changed the Sharia Laws in a way that suits them alone. Women in their minds are just house wives, and the men do not want any responsibility towards raising their children. They believe this is a womens job. Soon one day they will realize that they are rejects, and hopefully change. I just hope this day comes fast, because many innocent people are being beheaded and jailed for the most stupid of reasons. Muhammed Flaifil

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  14. Jeddah is like a jungle, the Jeddawis are out of their minds! Plus, there's construction everywhere, not allowing for easy traffic, and in general making for eyesores everywhere. And everybody you deal with in money rips you off, hotel managers, restaurants, fast food chains, markets of every kind, and they're pros at it!

    Hejazis are notorious for ripping off people and ripped off unsuspecting hajjis for centuries, before Abdul-Aziz b. Saud conquered their region and added it to his dominion.

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