Very dramatic title you may think if you have not yet had the privilege of driving on the roads of Saudi Arabia, why would you need to know “how to survive driving in Saudi Arabia?”
Well; those of you that are already there and have dared to get behind the wheel of a car will fully understand the sentiment behind this headline, driving in Saudi has to be the worst in the world. Having driven on most continents (I have not yet managed to reach Australia or the poles) and many countries including some in Africa and Asia with terrible driving habits, I can say without a doubt KSA is the very worst of the worst.
In over twenty years of driving in the west I have only ever been involved in two accidents, a lorry ran into the back of my car when I was parked in a residential area and the other was a car pulled out prematurely into the side of my car as I passed. Thankfully I have managed to avoid anything life threatening and have never hit another vehicle myself. I can also add that as a frequent traveler (I used to do 60k miles every year commuting and traveling for work) I witnessed very few accidents.
This record has changed dramatically within Saudi Arabia, the following are my statistics for 3 years of driving;
- I still have managed to avoid hitting another car myself.
- I have been hit from behind 3 times.
- Had a car scrape down the side of mine while in a queue.
- Had a car reverse into me at a set of lights.
- Was hit in the side by a car pulling out of a junction as I passed
- The whole side of my car crushed in a car park (no note left!)
- Witnessed accidents or the aftermath of accidents every day that I was on the road (not an exaggeration!)
- Witnessed a 20 car long shunt when a car stalled on a slip road in riyadh
- Attacked by a man with an iron bar in road rage incident
- Two very serious near misses
Crazy Saudi Driving
Just to highlight how bad Saudi driving is in general I will give you some examples of “normal” Saudi driving;
- All lanes including the hard shoulder and some footpaths are used for overtaking!
- There is no need to stick to one lane when 4 or more are available (Imagine downhill high speed slalom skiing)
- If their is a shorter route to where you wish to go even if it means driving against oncoming traffic take it!
- If the queue at the lights for turning left is too long take any other shorter queue and turn across all other lanes.
- Indication of any type is unnecessary.
- It is possible to levitate smaller vehicle out of your way by driving on their bumper and repeatedly flashing your lights and hitting your horn.
- The only possible position for the accelerator pedal is flat down. The space between traffic lights should be treated as a race track.
- Giving way is only observed for royalty or bigger more expensive cars, otherwise everywhere should be treated as a free for all.
- A car flashing their lights as they approach a junction is not telling you to pull out (for the information of polite UK drivers), it means “get in my way and I will crush you.”
If you have any other examples that you wish to add just leave a comment at the bottom and I will add them for you.
My Saudi Near Misses
I have had two almost fatal or at least very serious near misses;
The first involves driving from Riyadh to Dammam / Al Khobar for the first time. It is about a four hour drive through the desert on an otherwise straight and featureless road until you reach the outskirts of the Dammam and Al-Khobar area. At this point there are several options for roads to take and being a new driver to Saudi and to the area in general I was approaching each junction in the middle lane (generally the slowest!) and trying to read the sign in the dark before I passed the junction.
Looking up to read I was suddenly aware of several horns sounding and a squealing of tires and looked forward just in time to see a car reversing backwards in the middle lane of the highway to return to the junction, how I avoided hitting him I have no idea or the cars either side of me. That has to be one of the most frightening encounters I have ever had on the road and probably the most stupid piece of driving I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Maybe the driver thought that Allah would protect him and if he didn’t then he would get his place in paradise!
I thought that was the worst driving I had seen until;
I had to drive from Jeddah to Riyadh one day (about a 12 hour drive) and like most of the other drivers was failing to keep to the 120KPH speed limit and was going at a steady 180 to try to get the trip over with as quickly as possible. I was with a “pack” of about 7 or 8 cars all of us doing similar speeds. Two or three hours out from Jeddah we were all pulled over by a police speed trap (yes they do have them!)
This incident was very friendly and everyone was amazed to find a westerner taking the drive, I was provided with my speeding ticket which was explained as “road tax” by a giggling officer as the other booked drivers laughed on. Once we were all given our tickets off we all drove, the other drivers all roaring off again as fast as they could go still without regard for the limit. I kept my speed down but still found it creeping up to about 150 while I kept a careful lookout for more police.
A few hours from Riyadh a car overtook me at about 160 – 170 so I decided to follow about half a kilometer behind knowing that if he saw the police he would put on his brakes and I would have some warning. I followed this car until about an hour from Riyadh where we started to hit more traffic. Still at the same speed he approached a few cars in the outside lane flashing his lights and they dutifully moved aside allowing him to soar past with me following shortly behind.
A little further on a car came up behind me flashing its lights at speed, so I moved quickly out of the way and it roared past doing at least 200. This car rapidly approached the car that I had been following which was by now in a small queue of three cars in the outside lane who did not move aside as he approached, frustrated he did what all “good” Saudi drivers do and moved onto the hard shoulder to pass the cars without so much as slowing. Unfortunately for him the middle car of this small pack also frustrated at the car in front of him not moving to one side did the same obviously without a single glance behind.
The nutter was launched into the air by the impact across the central reservation into the path of the oncoming traffic while the car he had hit was launched sideways into the other lanes of traffic. At this point my ability to see was reduced to nil as the amount of sand that was thrown in the air was worse than a sandstorm. I stood on my brakes and slid through the sand storm hearing a number of impacts to all sides. Miraculously I emerged the other side of the sand without a scratch before moving over to the edge of the road to see what had happened.
On our side of the road there were several cars that had hit each other and people were obviously hurt, some unable to get out of their smashed up cars, the other lane looked far worse with bits of car thrown everywhere. I tried to help for a few minutes but I was taken firmly in hand by a couple of Saudis who told me to just leave as sometimes the police can be a little unpredictable in cases like this and I may have problems and could easily be detained overnight.
So I jumped back in my car and continued my drive home within the speed limit. Surprisingly no one died in that accident.
How to Drive Safely in Saudi Arabia
Anyway I have probably explained enough about how people drive in Saudi Arabia I should explain how to survive driving in their country, here are my tips for minimizing problems;
Take an advanced driving course if possible before you come to Saudi Arabia
Defensive driving is an absolute must, always expect the unexpected (and the Spanish Inquisition – although no one expects.. sorry I digress)
Offensive driving is required if you want to be able to cross junctions and navigate roundabouts.
Don’t drive too fast, keep to the limits everywhere (they have speed cameras now also.)
If another driver wants you out of their way, move and allow them to pass; it will not add long to your journey!
Drive a big car, expensive will make them them think twice about damaging your car, old will make them worry about damaging theirs.
Finally; If you are not a confident driver do not drive in Saudi Arabia!