Ensuring Sane Driving on Our Roads

Friday 20th, June 2014 / 20:07

Written by Oman Observer in Saturday


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By Ishmail D Mujahid — A mad driver dashes into the wrong lane after impatiently waiting for the cars in front of him to magically move out of the way. People see the madman, honk, complain, and finally shrug their shoulders when he barely misses hitting another car. This, ladies and gentleman, is a typical day in the Sharqiyah where reckless driving has been taken to new extremes. Oman’s rate of vehicular fatalities is climbing. According to some estimates, Oman has the highest rate of accidents and fatalities per 100,000 vehicles in the Arab world. A drive through places like Ibra and Sur will quickly show you why. Drivers speed without any warning and oftentimes cross in and out of lines for whatever reason comes to mind. Bumpers and broken glass are what they usually leave behind. Yet such warnings go unheeded.

Roads have been significantly improved. Police patrols have increased. Despite that, somehow, stats have not changed. There are so many deaths, people are no longer surprised. Just a week ago a young student was killed while turning into a gas station. It did not cause any sort of uproar. Nor did another accident some feet away, where a drunk driver did a hit and run, leaving a woman and her infant baby dead. A crackdown on reckless driving is a dire need. Drivers should have their vehicles confiscated after so many fines. Punishments should also be modelled after other countries in an effort to not only deter reckless driving but to also hand out effective punishments to offenders. Drivers that commit vehicular murder are routinely given light sentences like one year when they have either killed multiple people or left someone a cripple for life.

In the US, sentences of 20 years are regularly given to inebriated and reckless offenders who kill. In Saudi Arabia, the punishment is death. Such laws would work very well in the Sultanate, and make drivers think twice before getting behind the wheel. While some may feel it is a bit too much, such punishments have worked to great effect and helped people understand that a car, going a certain speed, is as lethal as any weapon. It is another hot day in the Sultanate. A simple drive to the souq reminds me of just how badly those laws are needed. A joyriding youth drives over a roundabout and nearly rams into another vehicle. A young lady’s car is hit while leaving her village, after a madman accelerated rather than slowed down while she was taking a turn. No one was injured thankfully. But those that have paid the most significant price of Oman’s bad driving habits are not hard to find.

They are all over the place. Some limp, others walk around with skin grafts, and still others are not that lucky. They’ve been confined to their beds and wheelchairs for life. Every time I leave my house, I see at least four people texting, while behind the wheel. This is but one of the many dangerous habits that are putting lives at risk and is considered to be one of the most common causes of vehicular fatalities in the country. The habit of imbibing alcohol has led to many inebriated drivers behind the wheel as well. Some go at 140 mph and straight to their deaths. The sharp increase in inebriated drivers, either on alcohol or some other intoxicants, has not led to any sort of action. No bans, no answers given to the grieving! Inebriated and texting drivers must be tackled. Despite the bleak outlook there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Authorities have shown a keen interest in spreading the message of safe driving with billboards being setup in key locations. Many hope that new roads will ease the strain on drivers by giving larger trucks their own lanes. However, a sterner stance needs to be adopted to put an end to what some feel is the most relevant issue in the country today. “This” as one driver told me, “Is Oman’s war.” Fortunately for civilians, it is a war that we all can help the country win. Let us not just leave everything to the authorities. Citizens need to start asking themselves tough questions when they get into a vehicle. More patience should be exercised on the roads. It is high time something is done before it is too late. The message of safe driving needs to get through to the aspiring youth. Psychological evaluations should also be introduced alongside the right laws to make reckless driving unthinkable

From The Oman Daily Observer – Saturday – June 21 2014.