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Driving in Saudi Arabia

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I have just returned from a nightmare month in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, but that is another story altogether!
What I want to write about is the experience of driving in that part of the world.

Just for starters, there are no white lines painted on the roads, and although the cars are supposed to travel on the right hand side of the road, either side will do…and when facing oncoming traffic, it is a simple case of playing “chicken” as to who is going to get out of the way first!

Stop Streets do not exist, and all intersections are approached with gay abandon, hooters blaring, and may the weaker man back off. Just to add to the problem, houses with extremely high walls are built right up to the edge of the road, so that it is impossible to see who is coming until you are already in the intersection!

There do appear to be some rules of the road, however, those for Saudis and those for non-Saudis. A Saudi has, at all times, total right of way, and a collision will result in persecution of the non-Saudi, no questions asked!

Wednesday nights (the equivalent to our Friday night) is when the boys come out to play, whether it be in their Chev Corvettes, Ford Mustangs, Chevy Suburbans, or Kawasaki 1100’s. These “boys” cruise the double carriageways terrorising all and sundry. Two weeks ago, it was the turn of the Kawasaki brigade to pop 500m wheelies AGAINST the traffic, headlights flashing in the palm trees that abound in the centre isle between the two roads. Last week it was the turn of the big Chevy’s to go four abreast down a 3-lane highway, literally bulldozing their way through the traffic at speeds exceeding 120 km/h. They are entirely ignored by the traffic police, who live in fear of finding themselves on the wrong side of a Saudi Prince’s son!

Talking of Princes’ sons, they get their licences at the age of 14, with a first car either being a new Beetle or Smart car, along with accompanying R20 000 sound system and tinted windows. Cars are not kept for long either, and are simply abandoned when in need of a service, or when their owners get tired of them. Of course the abandoned vehicles will not be touched, as to take a car not belonging to you will result in the death sentence, and therefore, the answer is DO NOT TOUCH! Personally I could have cried, looking at all the semi used cars abandoned next to the road. Anything from a 1998 Hyundai Sonata to an XJ 6 could be found, and of course, in the dry desert atmosphere they do not rot, so probably have a half life approaching that of Uranium! Any car involved in an accident is simply abandoned, as there is no point in repairing them. All Taxis are relatively new Mk 4 Camry’s, as all taxis are removed from the road once they reach 6 years of age. Driving in a taxi is a relatively relaxing experience, provided one does not look at the traffic jostling for position around one! Seat belts are worn at all times!

Petrol is exceptionally cheap, working out to about 45 cents per litre, so a car can be left idling with the air conditioning running when one parks in the blazing sun and goes shopping.

Finally the Polo Classic IS available, and is identical spec to the South African one. I do have the brochures if you would like to see them. There is a difference, in that they are all fitted with catalytic converters, and come standard with ABS, otherwise they are identical, but with a couple of extra engine variations, one being a very nice twin overhead cam 1.4 16 valve turbo diesel. The 1.6 standard model, however, is identical in every way to the one I have sitting in my garage! They also have a very nice “bakkie” version, called the Caddy, and which has a covered load area, very much like the Renault van available here. I have taken photos and will forward them to you, once I have my film developed. I took the photos at great risk, as the use of a camera is strictly forbidden, in case one is a spy!

Would I drive there? Not on your Nellie! A group N tussle into the first corner at Killarney is a walk in the park in comparison!

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