John Burgess reports daily on life in Saudi Arabia as reflected in various English language sources, mainly newspapers. When the world seems to be spinning too fast, his calm observations are like oil on the water. With a war underway to the north, this story from Arab News is typical.
Sure, I’d like to say it was an implementation of my brilliant muckraking journalistic skills to test what happens when you commit a traffic violation. But I must confess: I wasn’t speeding to write this story.
Like so many of my Jeddawi friends, I was speeding because everyone speeds; because Madinah Road is a raceway where everyone drives like they’re in aNASCAR rally; because you can exceed the speed limit without realizing it by simply going with the natural flow of traffic; and maybe even because in a country where only men drive, the highways and byways are suffering from an overdose of testosterone.
Jeddah traffic police have been put under pressure to do something about the infamous driving habits of city residents. The most recent statistics show that accidents in May have declined in comparison to the same month in 2005. Officers I spoke to admitted that their superiors are pushing for stronger enforcement of the two most dangerous violations: speeding and running red lights.
One of my fellow inmates, Abu Salem, said in fact he was a police officer himself. He was caught off duty by a colleague and charged just like the rest of us. He said the arresting officer was ordered to enforce the law, even on a colleague. “I don’t hold any grudge against my partner. We have been put under extreme pressure to uphold the traffic laws recently,” said Abu Salem, admitting that he probably would have done the same.
Another officer, who didn’t want to be named, said that they have been given quotas, which discourages them from issuing warnings or slacking off on their duties to enforce the law.