With accidents associated with speeding at an all time high and deaths on roads still a concern, is it time to toughen up and put the brakes on bad drivers?
Oman: On one side of the coin is known for its beautiful mountainous backdrops, charming citizens and harmonious living standards, and on the other side – its terrifying highways.
But why has it come to that? Why is it that Oman sees more deaths on the road than any other GCC country? Yet our speeding fines are among the most lenient in the entire GCC. Calls are now being made for the the Royal Oman Police (ROP) to take control of these situations that continue to haunt the roads across the Sultanate. Just this week, five people, including two ROP officers, were killed in one smash. The driver involved was a 17-year-old minor without a licence.
Is it possible to have safe roads in Oman? Or is that a notion far beyond anyone’s control at the moment? Y investigates and learns that there’s a long way to go.
From speeding and tailgating to dangerous manoeuvring and illegal parking, Alvin Thomas and Shaquel al Balushi saw it all during an hour-long drive in Muscat from Muttrah to our offices in Seeb.
For most drivers, cruising along the Sultan Qaboos Highway at midday in a heavy-duty Jeep Wrangler would be a dream come true. And despite the August heat, we were even enthusiastic enough to have our top down to help us soak up the true spirit of driving – feeling the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.
Our route was fairly straightforward – starting from the newly-opened National Museum of Oman opposite Al Alam Palace, all the way to Y’s office on the Seeb beach road. However, little did we know that our 53km journey would be more of a battle for survival than the scenic drive we had initially hoped for.
Our ordeal began at the Muttrah Corniche road, when a taxi van quickly cut in front of us, nearly taking off our engine and his front bumper.
A quick braking manoeuvre by Shaquel averted any further incident.
We also spotted numerous cars parked illegally across the parking spaces next to the Muttrah Souq – one of the prime spots for shopping in the locality.
Our idea was to capture images of various traffic offences we might pot on our way back to the office.
This soon led to a game of ‘I Spy’ of traffic offences. We could spot everything from tailgating, aggressive overtaking, texting and chatting on the phone while driving, illegal yellow line parking and the most dangerous offence of them all: speeding.
As a matter of fact, there were way too many cases of speeding. We lost track of the number of cars zooming past us at mind-boggling speeds.
And by the time we reached Qurum Heights, we saw ourselves playing cat-and-mouse (we remained within the speed limit of 100kph) with the multitude of speeding cars as we tried to click pictures of these cars whizzing by.
This brings to light a major worry. In a recent study carried out by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), a staggering 84 per cent of road accident deaths in Oman were caused due to speeding, overtaking and negligent driving in 2015, of which 57.9 per cent were from speeding alone.
Meanwhile, negligent driving accounted for 14.7 per cent and caused 11.2 per cent of road accident deaths last year.
Speaking to Y about the alarming rate of deaths due to accidents in Oman, Sulaiman, a driving instructor in Muscat, expresses his palpable sorrow and disappointment, saying: “It breaks my heart to see so many people losing their lives on the roads here.
“Only the Almighty knows how many children I have taught to drive who have lost their lives in accidents. It makes me sad.
“During driving lessons, all these young men that I teach are perfectly disciplined, obedient and law- abiding as they keep within the speed limits and lane markings.
“I guess it is a way of life. People who have been driving on the roads for a long time develop a sense of ego – as they drive big and fast cars – driving like they own the road
“Of course, as a driving instructor, there is very little I can do after a student has completed the classes. But I am very strict during lessons and I make sure that they know the dangers of the speeds they are going to be driving in.
“At the end of the day, they make their own decisions, and that decides their fate.”
Further analysis by the NCSI show that the number of victims of road accidents stood at 4,299 last year and that the overall number of accidents, despite a substantial fall of 23.5 per cent, still stands at 6,279 from 8,209 in 2012.
Most of these victims were also identified to be in 20-34 age group.
During our journey we felt that one of the main reasons why drivers like to speed is because of the low fines issued to offenders by the Royal Oman Police (ROP).
As of today, motorists who exceed the speed limit by 15kph to 35kph face an ROP fine of just RO10. The fine rises to RO15 for violations between 35kph and 50kph, and RO35 for those breaking the speed limit by 50kph to 80kph. All this means that the Sultanate has some of the lowest fines for speeding violations in the entire GCC area.
In comparison, the UAE charges AED400 (RO42) for a speeding offence.
Apart from speeding, we also caught 14 drivers (both men and women) texting, and two others speaking on the phone while driving down the Sultan Qaboos Highway.
We even caught one driver in a white Toyota Camry steering with his knees as he texted with both hands. We kept close to him just to see how far he’d go before he took control of the wheel again.
The youngster, a well-dressed man, drove all the way from Muscat International Airport to City Centre Muscat mall before taking control of the steering wheel again.
Our list doesn’t end there, either. We spotted at least 12 tailgaters, pulling up close to the vehicles up front in an effort to intimidate the driver into giving way.
These drivers, almost always in an SUV, came thundering down the fast lane, flashing their headlights at the vehicle in the front, knowing, or caring very little, of the terror the driver upfront had to endure.
Switching lanes without using appropriate indication signals also leads to chaos on the roads. Our eyes couldn’t catch them all but our investigation revealed more than 40 cars switching lanes without applying a proper indication signal.
Fortunately, none of the offences caused any harm today. But the 17-year-old youngster who lost control of his vehicle will be held responsible for the five lives he took. The youngster was also alleged to drunk behind the wheel and without a licence, making the offence all the more worrying.
Throwing light on the incident, Daryl Hardie, CEO of Safety First, a road safety organisation in Oman, says in an interview: “Obviously obtaining a licence properly is paramount.
“There is a law that you should not drive without a licence no matter if you are an Omani or an expat, but I think the largest element is alcohol and as far as I know there is zero tolerance for drink driving in the Sultanate.”
He adds: “The younger the generation, you must teach them that they are responsible for their actions and they are responsible for other people.
“If you are in an accident it’s very rarely it’s just you involved.”
According to the Traffic Law, Article 50, an individual will face imprisonment for no more than a year and a fine of not more than RO500, or either of these punishments, if that person is caught speeding, negligent, under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, or even if found overtaking a vehicle in a dangerous area or a no overtaking zone.
Daily commuters often have to endure a daily battle to get to work on the racetracks of Oman’s roads.
People like Abraham, an expatriate engineer who works with a leading telecommunications firm in Oman, who recounts one story.
“Sometime earlier this year, during one of my commutes to a work site in Seeb, I remember being tailgated by a Lexus sports sedan.
“I was travelling at a set speed of 120kph while he was substantially quicker. He came roaring at me and flashed his lights. However, I could not move into another lane as there were many other cars travelling at lower speeds than both of us.
“I could feel that the driver was restless so I increased my speed to an unsafe 150kph, just so that I could pass the cars in the other lane and switch. However – call it bad luck – a speeding camera was present and I was fined RO20.”
According to Abraham, one of the main reasons drivers in the Sultanate don’t heed road rules is because of the lack of awareness campaigns.
He said: “I really haven’t seen any road safety campaigns myself except for once in 2011 at the Muscat City Centre. Apart from that, I’ve not seen any road initiatives, no flyers talking about them, and no organisation coming out and speaking about the incidents that happen on the roads in Oman.
“I can understand why there’s a lack of safety campaigns. The Government probably isn’t funding them enough, and private bodies really don’t have the time, or money to start something of such sorts.
Abraham ends: “It hurts every time I hear of someone’s death because of an incident on the road. After all, lives matter.”
Our drive from Muscat to Seeb was both extremely tiresome and potentially hazardous and that is exactly what driving in Oman has become – an ordeal and riven with accidents waiting to happen. Imagine to under that twice a day just to get to work?
A chat with Khadeeja, a nurse at one of the leading private hospitals in Oman, reveals the reality behind the road accident statistics.
“Young drivers love to seek the thrills of driving like a racedriver and I understand that,” she tells Y.
“However, if you want to know how it feels to lose someone to an accident, or the repercussions of someone’s irrational decision making, then please visit one of the casualty or intensive care wards.
“I cannot reveal how many patients we have at the wards as of today. But I can tell you that there are many people ranging from the age groups of 18-40 there, struggling to take their next breath. Many are in a state of coma too, due to serious injuries to the brain and nervous system.
“We certainly hope and pray for the best. And we’re sure many will pull through as well.
“But my advice to parents would be this: Please monitor your son/daughter’s driving and please buy him a safe vehicle which is well suited for the roads in Oman.
“No parent has to go through the pains of seeing someone lose his/her loved child because of somebody’s silly irrational decisions on the road.”
“Life is precious; Please drive safe. You won’t be sorry.”
– RO10 for exceeding the speed limit by 15kph to 35kph.
– RO15 for exceeding the speed limit by 35kph to 50kph.
– RO35 for exceeding the speed limit by 50kph to 80kph.
– Jumping red signal: RO500 and/or one year jail term.
– Parking at a Mwasalat Bus Stop: RO15
– Causing death or any other loss of property: Fine mandated by court, with possible jail time.
– AED400 (RO40) for exceeding the speed limit by 10kph.
– AED500 (RO50) for exceeding the speed limit by 20kph.
– AED600 (RO60) for exceeding the speed limit by 30kph.
– AED700 (RO70) for exceeding the speed limit by 40kph.
– AED1,000 (RO100) for exceeding the speed limit by 60kph and also 30 days jail time.
– Driving dangerously: AED2,000 (RO200), 12 black points and 30 days jail time.
– Drunk under the influence: Court decided compensation, 24 black points and 60 days jail time.
– Court mandates fines for serious accidents which may or may not involve death of passengers and driver.
– Exceeding speed limit: QR500 (RO53), which will be increased by QR100 (RO10.6) for every 10kph to a maximum penalty of QR1,000 (RO100.6).
– Exceeding speed limit: SAR300 (RO31) to SAR900 (RO92), depending on the speed.
– Exceeding speed limit: BHD50 (RO51) to BHD500 (RO510).
– Exceeding speed limit: KD40 (RO51) to KD100 (RO128)
Accident rates (Deaths):
– Speeding: 57.9 per cent
– Risky Overtaking: 14.7 per cent
– Negligent Driving: 11.2 per cent
Number of accidents in 2015:
6,279 (4,299 deaths)
Number of accidents in 2012:
Average age group:
New driving licences issued in 2015: