As covered yesterday by Gulf News (and today it's in the Muscat Daily), the ROP announced it's 2011 total count for accidents on the roads last Saturday (December 31st, 2011). The facts are out, and I'm not even surprised by the stark reality that, even with the bizarre way the ROP calculates its figures, deaths on the roads in 2011 had risen by 22% since 2010 with 1,051 deaths recorded. In 2010 the ROP reported 820 deaths (and 2009 reported 953 dead).
As for injuries, they were up too: 11,322 injuries on the roads last year, compared to 7,571 injuries in 2010, thats an increase of 33%. Now, the population of Oman is 2,773,479 (as found by the Census in 2010) - so, if we pretend that every one of the 2.77 million people are driving (which they obviously are not) you have a 0.04% chance of dying on the roads (4 in 10,000), a 0.41% chance of being injured on the road (41 in 10,000) for a combined total 0.45% chance of something bad happening to you on the roads (before just regular injury-free accidents), or put another way 45 out of 10,000 of us, statistically met with an injury or fatality on the roads in 2011. When you factor in that of the 2.77 million of us living here in the Sultanate, there are obviously a large number of those that are not even drivers, so, in reality the % chance of something happening to the drivers amongst us is higher. And, it gets worse than that; the ROP does not include in their figures, those people that succumb to their injuries in hospital and die later - they are recorded as injuries and not fatalities. Additionally, I understand that children that die in car accidents are not registered either - I'm not 100% sure of that claim but it's certainly one that I've heard said more than a few times before. So even with the figures massaged, the facts are incredibly alarming.
So what is going on? Obviously, Oman is currently going through a population boom, and every day more and more people are born, more are driving, more are having accidents - so as the population increases, the total number of accidents is expected to naturally, but this increase in road deaths is outstanding. It's my opinion that as more adolescent Omani's start driving, more of them are recklessly driving with no care whatsoever what they are doing. Perhaps this is due to a simple case of ignorance, driving fast, overtaking on blind corners, not changing tyres before they burst at high speed etc - perhaps people do not know that they need to think when driving. The annual maintenance check could be made stricter, so those running on bald tyres are made to change them before renewal. It's a daily occurrence I see trucks and even taxi mini-buses running with bald tyres, yet in my entire time here, I've never heard of an ROP officer fining someone for having bald tyres.
I do not have access to the raw data so I'm going to make an assumption here: I'd say the largest cause of accidents is speeding. Let's face it - most of us have had speeding fines here - I've been living here for 4.5 years, and I have had 2 speeding fines - 1 in Qurum on the flyover and 1 up near Shinas at 1am on my way back from the UAE one weekend. If this was a country like Canada or the UK, my insurance premiums would have been jacked up, and I would have had points put on my license - too many points on your license and you lose your privilege to drive. But here, in Oman, I just paid the RO 10 fine both times, and went about my day. I know people that get speeding tickets all the time, they just dont care because it's only a tenner. Speed limits are for those people without wasta. You know I'm telling the truth.
The only way that is going to get people to reign in their need for speed in this country is to use the rule of the big stick - which is used so frequently elsewhere in this part of the world for a number of things. People are inherently lazy, so will cut corners, park on hard shoulders of highways instead of getting off the highway, speed because they're late, and so on. The ROP have been fairly vocal (for them) in the press over the last year asking people to slow down and buckle up, there's been the displays around the country and a number of ad campaigns - people just dont care - because what's going to happen? A 10 rial fine, if that.
The ROP have started deploying portable speed cameras, but everyone knows where they are (18 November Street, Al Mouj Street, Muscat Expressway and the road from the Expressway to Bank Muscat r/a) and so it's not really working. RO 10 for speeding is not a deterrent that is working. But the ROP are presumably issuing more speeding tickets as a result of this. Oman used to have a points license system, back in the day. For some reason unknown to me, this system seems to have been abandoned, yet in the Oman Traffic Law multiple references to a point system are made (see page 137 of 149 on the link for a table of fines).
Take a look at what has happened up in the UAE - there driving has been brought under control by use of a very large stick : drive like an ass and you'll pay for it, ultimately (if you are an expatriate) you could even lose your residence visa for driving like an idiot. The fines are much larger there, and the point system is in effect. I might argue that the fines there, or the penalty of losing your visa is a touch on the extreme side, but it seems to have worked.
So if the ROP are serious about starting to control this situation here, which by all accounts they appear to be serious, then we should expect to see a similar methodology deployed here: an increase to speeding fines, more spot-checks on road-worthiness of peoples vehicles, and more undercover cars with speed measuring devices. An increase in the speeding fine is essential - and for all those who say RO 10 is a lot to some people, for sure - no doubt it's a lot for some people - so surely they should bear that in mind and not drive over the posted speed limits then.
I hear it so regularly from people from all walks of life: I don't know how I got these speeding fines - I wasn't driving that fast. People seem to think it's funny and cool, when in reality I want to remind them that people are dying or getting injured at the rate of 1.4 an hour in 2011.
Here are my top 5 action items that I'd like to see improvements on in 2012 for traffic safety here in Oman:
1. Increase speeding fines
2. Bring back the points system
3. Totally over-haul the driving instructor / licensing system to include a road theory test & qualified instructors who have passed a stringent exam and are qualified to instruct people to learn to drive (currently you just need to have driven for 10 years to qualify). (I'm not even joking).
4. Make the annual maintenance check stricter, including actually inspecting cars less than 3 years old.
5. Carry out spot-checks on road-worthiness
What do you think of my list? Any other suggestions?