I don’t know if I have the guts to drive in Morocco, and surely I lack the patience to drive through the chaos that is called the streets of Cairo. But I have driven in Kuwait. And even though the streets are clean and everything is well organized, it doesn’t take too long to realize you are driving in the Middle East. Even walking can be a hazard. There are rules, speed limits, fatalistic cautionary signs like, “Speed Leads to Death!” The US Department of state reports:
Driving in Kuwait is hazardous. Although Kuwait has an extensive and modern system of well-lit roads, excessive speeding on both primary and secondary roads, coupled with lax enforcement of traffic regulations and a high density of vehicles (one vehicle for every 2.8 residents), leads to frequent and often fatal accidents. In 2005, reported vehicular accidents rose again over the previous year to 56,253. In 2005, there were 451 traffic-accident-related deaths, also an increase over the previous year. The average age of death was between 21 and 30 years. There are now over one million motor vehicles registered in Kuwait. Incidents of road rage, inattention and distraction on the part of drivers, poor driving skills, and highway brinkmanship are common in Kuwait, and can be unsettling to Western drivers in Kuwait who are accustomed to more rigid adherence to traffic laws.
This website, Life in Kuwait faithfully depicts the hazards of Kuwaiti driving. But the scariest thing are the roundabouts. The first time I encountered one, my friend told me to go straight. I didn’t know what that meant, there was only left and right. I almost drove into the center divide. Whew, but she meant follow the road to the left, then turn off right. So recently I found this guide to roundabouts. One piece of advice goes:
Never come to a full stop while waiting for your turn; stopping is a sign of weakness. When attempting to enter you must be fearless. If the other cars detect that you are not confident in your attempts, they will make sure you never get by.
The advice helps. You have to have courage to drive in Kuwait. The first time I drove my friend had her entire family make du’a. The kids were suprisingly silent so that I could focus. We all breathed a sigh of relief when I made it to our destination. Just like airplane take offs and landings, driving in the Middle East makes me especially religious (conscious that the end may be near) and my prayers more fervent.
Along with all the women driving in Kuwait, when I’m out running errands or heading to school, I’m spreading untold corruption and eroding social mores as I navigate Kuwaiti roads. That’s the argument that the opponents to women driving in Saudi Arabia make. Here’s what the latest report from New York Times has to say
Some Saudi officials and religious men agree with the women that Islam does not forbid women to drive. In the past, Saudi women were able to move freely on camel and horseback, and Bedouin women in the desert openly drive pickup trucks far from the public eye.
Clerics and religious conservatives maintain that allowing women to drive would open Saudi society to untold corruption. Women alone in a car, they say, would be more open to abuse, to going wayward, and to getting into trouble if they had an accident or were stopped by the police. The net result would be an erosion of social mores, they say.
See the rest of the article here, Saudis Rethink Taboo on Women Behind the Wheel
4 thoughts on “Driving in Kuwait”
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Driving in the Middle East is nuts. There are little or no rules and it wouldnt matter, they wouldnt follow them anyway. You have to be brave to drive there, say your Bismillahs and put your life in God’s hands.
I have driven from Morrocco to Dubai and it is never good anywhere. I guess I had a leg up as I was used to round abouts from living in Europe.
For me the hardest things about round abouts in Europe was remembering to go the opposite way when I got off the fairy coming from France.
The French in their driving habits are kind of like Arabs, making lanes were none exist, using sidewalks as extensions of the road, stop signs and traffic lights as suggestions to be followed when convenient.
In my experience driving in Germany is the best. Germans follow rules and have to complete a lengthy process to gain their license.
I wanted to let you know I am really enjoying your commentary from your trip. Thanks!
One simple saying can really go with driving situations here in Kuwait is “If you can’t beat them, join them!”. Simply, if you don’t drive like most of us do you won’t have a chance to survive and reach point B safely.
I will never forget driving in Kuwait. I am from the USA, and I was scared to death driving to and from work every day. Once I got used to it, it was fun, but my truck had a governor (device that limits your speed) on it. I remember showing the new guys how to get to work, and their knuckles were white from how hard they were hanging on in the truck (apparently they were scared too)!
This was a great piece!