Friday, July 8, 2011

Riding Along In My Automobile

A week since my last post.  Poor effort.  But, in my defense, it's been a slow week.  While so many of my friends are engaged in exciting pursuits like moving!  bidding!  finding out the results of bids!  getting engaged!  getting married!  having babies!  going on vacation!, me, I'm just keeping on keeping on.  Which is kind of nice.  I have had some nice down time, some nice naps, some good progress on projects at work, and even time to cook.  Yesterday I even had a chance to unpack/inventory a box of treasures from my time in South Africa.  My collection of guinea hen-themed cookware and dining decor is now proudly displayed.  I do love me a guinea hen. 

I need to write blogs about my trip to Miami and the Keys, but that would require posting photos, which my fragile internet connection is just not up to.  And which I am just not up to getting frustrated over. 

So I think it's time for some reflections on (not) driving in Saudi Arabia.  These days, most conversations eventually turn to driving and traffic and (the lack of) rules of the road.  One of the excuses I hear most often for not allowing women to drive is that they will cause accidents because they are not used to driving.  Which may be true and would of course be a short-term effect (just look at teenagers the world over and their insurance rates for proof), but this excuse is just a bit ridiculous to me because of the poor driving one encounters in Saudi Arabia every day.  The number of road accidents here is astronomical (in the absence of actual statistics), nobody seems to have had any driver's education, and every day is an adventure in ridiculousness on the road.

So, some observations.

-I am pretty sure the only people who use seat belts in this entire country are my colleagues and me (who, by the way, ride in armored vehicles with "seat belts required" signs liberally posted throughout).

-Similarly, nobody has ever heard of a car seat?  It is normal to see children unrestrained in cars.  And they're not sitting down.  They're crawling over the seats, obscuring the driver's vision, bouncing around, poking out of windows and sunroofs, and generally making me cringe.  It is not unusual to see toddlers driving, sitting on their fathers' laps.  Ditto infants.  This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

-It is not unusual to make a left turn from a lane other than the left turn lane.  Including the far right lane.  Including on 10-lane highways.  It is also not unusual for the vehicle doing this to be a giant, heavy water truck. 

-Red lights are mere suggestions.  As are turn signals.

-The right of way belongs to he who asserts himself.

-I found out last week that it is technically illegal to use a cell phone while driving.  And I laughed out loud.  Because you would never, ever, ever in a million years guess this from driver behavior.

-Cutting people off could be a national sport. 

-Traffic is worse at night.  Especially weekend and holiday nights.

-Traffic is light when there's an exciting football match on.  Amazingly, this seems to extend to the Women's World Cup.

-After a win by a favored team in an exciting football match, it's anything goes.  Roller blading while holding on to the car, check.  Roller blading while being towed behind a car via rope, check.  Having more passengers ON the car than IN the car, check.  Exciting games of chicken, check.  Chinese fire drills, check.  (And not necessarily at red lights!)  Chinese fire drills between cars without stopping, check.  Holding giant stuffed tiger heads out the window, check.  Driver's window, of course.  And, of course, all manner of displaying and waving flags and banners.

-It is possible to buy SpongeBob SquarePants merchandise at every intersection in Jeddah. 

-Lines separating lanes are mere suggestions.  It might actually be more efficient without them altogether.  What was designed as a four-lane road is more often a seven-lane road. 

-You need not have a specialized vehicle to transport goats and sheep.  (I know this one from my days in Africa, but it's equally creative here.  In surprising ways sometimes.)

-You can tell where the traffic cameras are placed by the explosion of red brake lights in front of you.

-The people driving the cars at the front of the line at every traffic light are colorblind.  Or at least this is what I gather from the cacophony of horn honking that happens EVERY time a light turns green.  And sometimes before said light turns green. 

-Pedestrians, beware.  There are only a few brave souls anyway, but they literally take their lives in their hands every time.

-Why bother with stop signs at a four-way intersection when you can just honk   when approaching to signal your intent to proceed?

And with that, I'm exhausted just thinking about it.  There are millions of other crazy examples of (not) driving in Saudi Arabia, and I reserve the right to update this list as I remember/witness more things.  And I know that bad driving is a special feature of most places in the world:  what are some of the most egregious (to you) violations of the rules of the road at your post?