An average of 17 Saudi Arabian residents die on the country’s roads each day, a report by the Kingdom’s General Directorate of Traffic has revealed. The news comes after the World Health Organization found Saudi Arabia to have the world’s highest number of deaths from road accidents, which now make up the country’s principal cause of death in adult males aged 16 to 36. First reported by the Saudi daily Arab News, the study found that 6,485 people had died and more than 36,000 were injured in over 485,000 traffic accidents during 2008 and 2009.
There was no official reaction to the unfortunate world record, and Saudi analysts pointed to larger underlying problems.
“The driving problems are with young people,” Ali Abdul-Rahman Al-Mazyad, a Saudi columnist in Riyadh told The Media Line. “There are very little outlets for young people to enjoy themselves and kids basically do what they want.”
“There is also not such great education in schools about driving and respecting the road,” he said. “Drug use is also a contributing factor. These are the central problems.”
The report found that almost a third of traffic accidents in the Saudi capital Riyadh were due to drivers jumping red lights, followed by 18 percent of accidents caused by illegal U-turns. The most common dangerous driving activities were speeding, sudden stops and speaking on the phone while driving.
Over the past two decades Saudi Arabia has recorded 4 million traffic accidents, leading to 86,000 deaths and 611,000 injuries, 7 percent of which resulted in permanent disabilities.
A recent study at the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), a Riyadh-based scientific research group, warned that if the current rise in road accident rates is not curbed, Saudi Arabia will have over 4 million traffic accidents a year by 2030.
Silvio Saadi, a Jeddah-based businessman and film producer, argued that both the government and an out-of-control youth culture were to blame.
“You won’t believe what you see,” he told The Media Line. “It’s just crazy.”
“Saudis often try to drift with normal cars and thousands of spectators on the sides of the street,” he said, referring to an informal motor sport in which drivers intentionally over-steer so as to lose traction and drift on the road. “Sometimes the car drifts into the spectators, slamming them into buildings along the sidewalk.”
Saadi said that while the government has made some initiatives, they have fallen short of an aggressive road safety campaign.
“Outside the city, the police often cannot stop them,” he said. “The police are actually scared because there can be thousands of them. A few years ago they built a Jeddah raceway to attract young people to do it on the track instead of on the streets, but people still like to do it the old fashioned Bedouin way.”
“We get approached every year by government departments to produce public service announcements about speeding but most of the time nothing comes of it,” Saadi added. “Who knows what happens, but there is a lot of corruption. They probably take budgets from the government to do public service announcements and then don’t do it.”
Video of crazy road stunt as Saudi youth skate on the road.
Saudi Arabia has long had a taste for expensive cars, and spottings of young Saudis cruising the streets of Jeddah and Riyadh in Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsches and Harley Davidson motorbikes are increasingly commonplace.
One of the Middle East’s largest car markets, automobile sales make up about three percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product.
Following overstated fears that the global recession might seriously weaken the Arab world’s largest economy, Saudi car sales are now expected to boom. The kingdom’s car market, including both commercial automobiles and transport infrastructure, is currently worth about $9 billion. The market is expected to grow by 30 percent in 2010.
Over 675,000 cars are expected to be sold in 2010 to a population of just under 25 million.
(This story by Benjamin Joffe-Walt is reprinted with permission by The Media Line, the Mideast News Source.)