By Mai Al-Mannai
Qatar recently won the 2022 World Cup bid, one of the most lucrative tourism deals a country can acquire. Among many of the issues it needs to address before hosting the prestigious tournament is its dangerous roads. Poor road conditions often contribute to Qatar’s undesired road culture, which is known for its recurring car accidents.
A maintenance problem
Although radar, barriers and traffic police are scattered across Qatar, such safety measures are not as apparent on highways, particularly those on the outskirts of Doha. Highways are often where the injuries and fatal accidents occur, says Sean Kockott, a road safety specialist at Qatar Petroleum.
Some local highways contain potholes, cracks and other uneven surfaces, which can cause accidents if cars are driving at high speeds, says Kockott. Maintenance, stresses Kockott, is key. Kockott does not see any pattern of consistent road maintenance in Qatar. For example, in 2005, the road near Villaggio mall was “beautiful,” says Kockott. Approximately five years later, the road “went to pieces because of all the trucks that went on it.” “Any man-made construction must be maintained regularly,” he says.
The roads in the worst conditions in Qatar are in the industrial area, says Epifanio Torres, an employee working on the Midmac Company’s Salwa Road Project. Salwa Road is also dangerous, with around three or four accidents occurring every day, says Torres. Minimizing accidents is possible, but it is a challenge, says Honorato Atilano, a safety officer also working on the Salwa Road Project. Construction companies can take every safety precaution, but they cannot control the actions of non-employees, stresses Torres. (Click here to view a map of accident zones in Qatar.)
While damaged roads can cause car accidents, they do not exclusively lead to them. This is especially true on highways, where a myriad of factors can cause injuries and fatalities for commuters. The consensus among road, traffic and safety specialists across Qatar is that speed is the primary cause of car accidents. “People don’t consider the other road users,” says Kockott.
Lack of attention while driving and carelessness cause accidents, says Atilino. Approximately 70 percent of the drivers he sees ignore traffic signs. Atilino sometimes sees people driving in the wrong direction. To make matters worse, drivers play practical jokes on workers by speeding toward them and quickly turning the wheel before they hit them, says Atilino.
Although there is a tendency to blame Qatar’s dangerous road culture on nationals, ‘it’s not about nationality because I see expats driving unsafe, I see nationals driving unsafe. You can’t say it’s just this culture…everybody is guilty.” But Kockott does notice that the majority of accidents happening on Qatar Petroleum roads can be attributed to males between the ages of 18 and 28.
At 21 years old, Tarek Al-Ward fits Kockott’s description. Al-Ward is a Qatari student at Qatar University, and in late 2010, he was involved in a severe accident on a prominent local highway. According to Al-Ward, he was making a U-turn on Dukhan highway when a car driving at 140 kp/h hit his car, sending it flying to the other side of the road. Al-Ward’s vehicle was totaled; he blacked out and suffered some slight bruising. Although Al-Ward says it is technically his fault for turning too soon, the speed of the approaching car played a major factor in the accident.
Al-Ward says people speed on the Dukhan highway because trucks driving on the right side of the road damage the concrete, forcing everyone to drive on the left at high speeds. “The road needs to be fixed,” he says.
Only part of the solution
Fixing roads will not entirely solve Qatar’s traffic woes. Not having enough lighting on roads is another hazard, says Sheikha Al-Jufairi, a member of the Central Municipal Council. The Al-Shamal road have claimed many lives because there is no lighting to guide drivers, says Al-Jufairi. Even neighborhoods require lighting, she adds.
While road bumps and proper lighting may help reduce accidents, Al-Jufairi finds awareness to be the solution. Road users, according to Al-Jufairi, are not aware of traffic rules and regulations. Road safety awareness efforts must be ongoing, she says.
Al-Jufairi nicknames some of the roads in the airport municipality “the roads of death” because of the sheer number of lives they claim (click here to view a graph on the deaths caused by traffic accidents). At one point, a Ministry of Interior report showed that 24 percent of car accidents in Qatar happen in the airport area, says Al-Jufairi, who oversees issues concerning the airport municipality.
In an ideal situation, there would be no need for radar or speed signs because people would follow the law, says Abdulla Jassem Al-Buainain, an assistant investigation officer at Maamura Traffic Division. Al-Buainain blames many local car accidents on erratic drivers, not poorly maintained roads. Consequently, he feels that educating residents on Qatar’s traffic laws is a must.
Al-Jufairi believes that local traffic laws must be translated into all prominent languages to reach a wider audience in Qatar. It is not enough to accommodate the nationals with traffic signs because the majority of Qatar’s population is not Qatari, says Al-Jufairi.
As labor workers constitute a significant portion of Qatar’s pedestrian population, they are more likely to get hit by a car. In 2010, pedestrians accounted for 32. 3 percent or 73 of the total 226 fatalities in Qatar. The highest numbers of deaths recorded in 2010 are from the Nepalese and Indian communities. (Click here to view accidents victims by nationality)
Nadeem Chaudhary, a senior research engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute, a research agency associated with Texas A&M University, wonders why pedestrians in Qatar are crossing roads to begin with. Relatively new to Qatar’s notorious driving scene, Chaudhary has already witnessed parents or drivers dropping students off at schools in the middle of freeways where speeds can reach 100 kp/h. Chaudhary reasons that pedestrian crossing may occur because of a lack of parking facilities. Chaudhary says parking should be addressed during the planning stages of building construction.
Flawed designs and manuals
Archaic highway designs and traffic manuals, which the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has just updated, further fuel Qatar’s erratic driving scene. Previous traffic manuals were outdated and flawed, says Chaudhary. In the past, local companies built roads based on old manuals, believes Chaudhary. When the manuals did not contain crucial instructions, contractors would refer to their personal knowledge, says Chaudhary. As Qatar’s roads do not follow one standard, drivers can be confused, he adds.
Nonetheless, a significant amount of drivers use sand tires on the road, says Chaudhary. Made of nylon, not rubber like regular tires, sand tires do not have the traction required for emergency braking situations. In fact, under extreme conditions such as heat and improper road use, sand tires have a tendency to erupt, which can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles.
Worsening Qatar’s tire issues is the growing popularity of counterfeit tires, says brigadier Mohamed Al-Malki. A road expert of approximately 30 years, Al-Malki finds the use of sand tires on roads to be dangerous. Many young males who take their cars on sand dunes for fun disregard changing their tires back, and this could lead to accidents, says Al-Malki. In the coming months, the Ministry of Interior is planning to introduce a traffic law that bans the use of sand tires on roads.
Improving highways can help mitigate car accidents in Qatar, but traffic specialists agree that raising awareness about road safety is equally, if not more, important. When Qatar inevitably hosts the World Cup in 2022, the arenas, shows and the “amazing” can go a long way in impressing tourists. Needless to say, safe driving is just as essential. Qatar has been making some headway in creating safer roads. Crash cushions and barriers have been added to new highways to alleviate the blow in case of an accident. But many, including Chaudhary, feel that there is always room for improvement.