Motorists on Muscat's roads are conversant with the dangerous pranks some egocentric drivers play every day, amid busy traffic, just to indicate who is 'lord of the road'! While some simply love to rule the road, some are always in a hurry and some are oblivious of other vehicles on all adjoining lanes.
In one such incident recently, two cars were moving very closely, hardly a few inches separated the two running at over 100 kmph on the stretch marked with red and white barricades that gave a clear indication about the works happening on either side of the road. It seemed the two cars would collide at any time. The chaser honked incessantly and flashed lights asking the other to stop his vehicle. The fracas on the wheel continued till the infuriated drivers stopped their cars in the middle of a busy road. Heated arguments ensued with both of them pointing fingers at each other for wrongdoing. They didn't pay attention to hundreds of hapless motorists, stranded during the peak hour of the day. But then, this is the order of the day in Muscat, so very often.
Plenty of disruptions happen on the capital's roads these days, thanks to the havoc created by impatient drivers, who breach speed limits, tailgate vehicles in the front, blare horns, change lanes with out checking the rearview mirrors, show unnecessary haste while approaching the roundabouts…
Not long ago, Oman roads were considered as a motorists' paradise. The disciplined driving culture earned the country a reputation among its counterparts in the Gulf region. Sounding the horn and tailgating were unheard practices and aggression didn't have any takers…Driving was a pleasant experience for one and all!
Have we forgotten driving etiquette over the years? The answer seems to be yes, going by the accidents reported from around the country. A majority of the motorists tend to forget the best driving practices. Thus, driving on a busy street with loud music has turned out to be a fashion statement for youngsters, turning on fog lamps in broad daylight is also an easy way to grab attention; changing lanes without indicators is an ideal way to show off deft manoeuvring skills, and overtaking on a single lane carriageway reveals the love for adrenaline rush!
"We miss driving etiquette these days," opines First Lieutenant Mudhar Abdul Malik Al Mazroui, Head, Training Department, Traffic Safety Institute. "Vehicles are relatively new to Oman as they were introduced in the early '70s. The number of vehicles began to proliferate from 2001. But the drivers are not familiar with the manners to be observed on the road. Internet, Fast food, television are affecting their behaviour."
"It is very difficult to assess the behavioural pattern of the individuals. Omanis are known for their politeness. But when it comes to driving they behave entirely different. If you approach Omani citizens with a request for help, they will be more than willing to assist you. But if you overtake their vehicle, they will begin the fight," Al Mazroui says.
The Traffic Safety Institute is trying to address this issue by conducting awareness programmes. It holds defensive driving practical driving courses to teach young drivers how to behave on the road. It even trains driving instructors on good manners, as they play a vital role in inculcating this habit among their students.
"Driving etiquette should become a part of our life. It is the duty of one and all to be courteous on the road and follow traffic rules. Good manners will drastically reduce the number of road accidents," opines Khalid Yousuf Al Balushi, Chief Safety Officer at the Oman Automobile Association.
He feels that drivers of his generation were careful and were afraid to commit errors. It was a time when drivers were courteous, and stayed alert till they were behind the wheel. According to him, the scenario began to change when most of the single lane carriageways were converted to multi-lane, state-of-the-art roads. Recklessness became a common feature with the advent of sophisticated vehicles fully loaded with innovative features.
"Youngsters do not have enough avenues to release their pent-up energy. When they get behind the wheel they tend to break the rules. The Oman Automobile Association provides them the much-needed avenue for adrenaline rush. They can utilise karting, drifting, rally arenas inside our campus to use their energy positively," he says.
Khalid believes that every one should try their best to avoid blowing horns, and should lay their hands on it depending upon the situation. "A short horn can be used to alert the other driver for minor issues. It can be used if the children in the back seat put their head out, if you notice some thing wrong with the other vehicle. But, if you hold off on the horn for a considerable amount of time, it will annoy other motorists and may cause accidents. It is a kind of 'shouting', and that is why many people do not like long horns."
Mudhar also says that honking is against the culture of Oman. "It is not allowed unless there is a social event. There are fines for honking, tailgating and other offences, starting from RO 15. It can go up if the driver's action results in accident. Depending upon the severity of the accident, the driver can be banned from driving for six months, sent to jail or the vehicle taken to custody for 48 hours to two weeks. Police send the offenders to the court in most of the cases."
"If two drivers engage in a quarrel in the middle of the road, both of them will be responsible in front of the law and they risk losing their licence to drive. Youngsters are aggressive, but we are still better than our neighbouring countries. Many stringent rules that are in the pipeline are expected to curb the offences. We have witnessed a drastic drop in the number of traffic offences with the introduction of new cameras and police patrols," he informs.
A section of motorists in the city when asked about the most annoying offences on the road which go unpunished stated 'tailgating' as the most common. There was a consensus that tailgating in indulged in mostly by young drivers irrespective of the type of cars they drive. Then there was common opinion against those who drive the roaring fast cars who do so with an intention of intimidating others on the road as well as to turn attention towards them. Some residents also pointed out that it was common practice for young drivers to harass female drivers by blocking their way, making passes or following them.
Motorists hailing from different countries, including Omanis, were also of the opinion that most pranks on the road are played in the absence of vigilance. By stepping up vigilance and having more police patrol vehicles stationed at strategic points along the roads, pranksters would be in check, most felt.
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