I have to tell you about rush hour Saudi style. The traffic in Riyadh is like nothing you have seen anywhere in the world. And no not even comparable to Moscow, for my Muscovite friends. I have been driven by the Jason Statham of Russian drivers, his name was Igor, and he would certainly put some of the Saudis through their paces, but even he had limits.
Most Saudi drivers behave as if they believe that the rules of the road are designed for anyone who is not Saudi, and that they are therefore exempt from those laws. Roads are merely optional, and any surface that can be driven on should be driven on.
Recently, on a Wednesday evening, aka Friday to most of the world, i.e. the day before the weekend, the DH and I were returning from mundane grocery shopping, only to come across a snarled traffic disaster near King Saud University. There were approximately four lanes of stationary traffic. ( White lane lines are for guidance only.) In the distance we could see a small dust maelstrom. I then saw that most of SUV’s in the jam were trying to get across the traffic lanes and up a concrete slab on to the sand filled central reservation in order to cut the queue. Their strategy was foiled because in the distance there were flashing lights indicating some form of law enforcement, so in a cloud of dust they U-turned in the Central reservation, and speeded away in the opposite direction.
The DH’s blood was up now, and he gleefully engaged in driving Saudi style, by pushing our SUV into the central reservation, although he quickly did a U turn to the other side of the road. It is completely liberating to be able to free yourself from what seems an unassailable traffic jam.
On the other side of the road I noticed a little white Toyota, which was not big enough to follow the SUV’s. But the determined driver was not going to be foiled. He decided that the best course of action would be to quickly do a U-turn into the breakdown lane, and come back down that the wrong way. Quite brave I thought, but what would he do when he reached the roundabout / rotary on the wrong side of the road. I was flabbergasted to see that his bravery had no end, and after a slight hesitation, in the same way that you or I might pause before jumping into a cold swimming pool, he launched off round it the wrong way. What gumption!
Like any other city, there are traffic police, cameras and radar. I know people both Saudi and Expat who have been given tickets. So there are the same risks to being caught as elsewhere, but this does not seem to stop man and his supposed inalienable right to do what he wants with his vehicle. Driving here is an expression of freedom, to take your car on the road or in the desert, to park if you so wish in the middle of 3 lanes of traffic while you shop. To use your cell phone and steer with your knees. To drive in whatever direction you choose and at a speed that suits you and to show off to your fellow man.
It will be interesting to see, when women drive, whether all this free form driving will have to stop, because women do not care for testosterone laden showboating, preferring to live rather than die on the roads. I think an unanticipated consequence of allowing women to drive will be a better standard of road safety for all.