Sunday, October 30, 2011

The road has got me hypnotized and I'm speeding into a new sunrise (Golden Earring)

This post could also have been titled 'Okay - I think I may have seen everything now' if I wasn't wedded to the-song-lyric-fragment-as-title idea..

I don't think I've spoken/written much about driving in the Middle East yet have I?

Allow me to correct that for you.

First though you need some context.

Here is a picture of part of the Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. I include it to show the way roads are laid out in the UAE (and Qatar).

Please note that the main roads are bisected by a median strip - usually crash barriers of some sort. On the left you can see four lanes heading south. On the other side of the median strip (to the right) are four lanes heading north.

Slip roads on either side control the exits and entrances to the lanes. This is the only way to get from the north lane to the south lane.

It is, I repeat, impossible to get into a lane going in the opposite direction. Even if you could, this would be suicide given the next bit.

Traffic speeds are usually up to 140kph on highways. I cruise at 120 (the stated speed limit, the speed cameras are set at 140).

The third piece of crucial information you need is the mentality of the local drivers. They are...insane!

The UAE has the seventh highest road death rate per 100,000 inhabitants per year in the world - 37.1. The other 6 above them are dirt poor third world crazy paving states like Niger 37.5, Angola 37.7, Iraq 38.1, Afghanistan 39, Cook Islands 45 and top of the heap is Eritrea 48.4 (apologies to the lovely Cook Islanders reading this, not sure how you ended up being second, what the heckfire are you doing on your roads??). By contrast, Nu Zild's rate was 8.6.

Basically the drivers here don't care. Generally because, as I say, they are nuts. Mainly young guys in over powered cars with unlimited money and time on their hands. Recently the traffic accident statistics fell for a day by 45%. Why? The Blackberry links went down.

So I have got used to no signals, frequent lane changers, cars racing each other around me, being passed while doing 130kph and so on. all that? Right...

So today I'm driving to school at about 11am having dropped a colleague back home because his wife was ill.

I have the new Mastodon album in the car's CD player and it's really LOUD!

I take the Al Ain/Dubai Rd to Al Foah. It has three lanes and the speed limit is 120 kph. Unfortunately there are no speed cameras on this stretch of highway so you can be passed by maniacs travelling up to 160kph but at least you don't have to worry about pesky (and dangerous) roundabouts. Most accidents happen on the roundabouts.

I'm in the fast lane going past a truck, the extreme left lane next to the median barrier. There are two lanes to my right (the slow lane is hard right). Like this:

Looks and sounds weird I know but with a left hand drive car it makes sense.

Out of nowhere I see headlights flashing on and off ahead of me. But something's wrong. Usually I see this in my rear view mirror - it means 'get out of my way, I am driving a Land Cruiser and you are in a piece-of-shit Tiida, I repeat - get out of my freakin way!!'. This time, though, it is AHEAD OF ME.

They are the main headlights. My brain tells me that this is impossible. This means a car is coming TOWARDS ME!!!!!

The headlights continue to flash on and off in front of me.

A thought: I figure it must be a cop trying to get to an accident scene. As it gets closer I understand that it's a Toyota Ute.

I am travelling at 120 Kph. I can do one of three things, only one: dodge the oncoming car by moving to my right somehow elbowing the truck out of the lane; slow down and go behind the truck; stay where I am and play chicken with the Toyota Ute that is closing the gap between us rather quickly.

I move to my right. Luckily the truck next to me sees the situation (thanks to those flashing lights) and pulls over to the right as well.

In a blur Toyota is gone (I catch a slow motion glimpse of two Emirati men in the front seat, amazingly they appear unconcerned).

The rest of the drive to school is a similar blur of thoughts.

I have no idea how or why what had just happened, happened.

I don't understand how he got to my side of the median strip. I don't understand why he is there. It was all a bit like I'd just glanced out my window and had seen an Emirati riding a polar bear up a sand dune waving his cowboy hat.

I was completely non-plussed.

I think I've now seen it all.

Love and peace - Wozza

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