I have a post coming up about the Friday market and other local flair, but–at the risk of freaking my mother right out–I’m going to discuss traffic in Kuwait today. Imagine the busiest road you’ve ever driven, and multiply that by ten. Next, take away all the regular rules of traffic, including who can turn from which lane, right-of-way for pedestrians, speed limits, and mandatory signal light use. Most of the traffic practices that make our roads run fairly smoothly are either not required by law here, or (more commonly) not at all enforced.
A big part of the problem on Kuwait’s streets and highways is the price of fuel. I took a photo of the pumps after the gas station attendant finished filling us up today.
We got premium fuel, which was priced at 0.065 Dinars per litre. As you can see above, the price to put more than 50 litres into The Electrician’s parents’ truck was 3.100 KD (Kuwait Dinars). Roughly approximated, premium gasoline was 22.7 cents per litre today, and the whole tank cost $10.85 Canadian. Right now, my dad is shaking his head. Gas was $1.12 a litre at home when I left, which is painful but not as high as it’s been in recent memory.
Because the fuel is so cheap, people who live in Kuwait drive and drive and drive. The infrastructure is also ill-equipped to handle so many vehicles; roads are carrying many times the maximum number of cars and SUVs they should. At the busy times of day, especially in the evenings when folks are out for late dinners and the weather is cool, traffic barely moves. Horns honk like ducks on the lake shore.
On the highways, or in the city when the traffic is lighter, speed limits seem to mean very little. Out on the highway, the legal speed limit is 120 kilometers per hour, which is only ten faster than it is at home, but few drivers travel anywhere near the limit. As we were clipping along through the dessert today, we needed to keep moving over because someone was blowing up behind us at 150 or more with no intention of stopping. When vehicles crash here, they are wrecked beyond recognition, and people die. The fact that seat belts are not required and the locals don’t wear them adds to the carnage. We’ve seen countless cars with little kids unbuckled and crawling all over the place; I can’t even think about what would happen to those children in a crash. To try to get the message through, the government leaves crumpled cars at the crash sites, pulled off to the side and marked with signage about the dangers of speed and texting while driving. It’s a garish reminder of what happens on roads like these.
If you look up to the left in the photo above, you’ll see the red taillights of all the traffic heading away from our place, and the white taillights of all the traffic heading back along the seafront. I haven’t taken photos of the really scary traffic because it’s not something I can express in a photograph. The Electrician’s dad has been driving us around while we’re here, which is a good thing because he has been living here and navigating the crazy roads for nearly two years. I trust him to get us safely through, and he is, but that doesn’t stop me from gasping at the near-misses.
The most creative driving I’ve seen in Kuwait involves the hitherto unknown term “carving.” In North America, we would refer to this as “cutting off” except that it happens in the gridlock traffic here. Don’t get me wrong: we’ve seen plenty of very high speed, very sudden lane changes on the fast roads, but the carving on the slower streets is intense and repeated. Again and again, I am sure another car is going to sideswipe us, and many of the vehicles on the road are deeply scarred. Essentially, carving means wedging a car into any space available, even a spot barely big enough for a rollerblade, much less a Land Rover. At any sudden moment, another car can (and generally will) come within inches of our bumper, close enough that I could roll down my window and leave my handprints on their glass if I was stupid enough to try.
Even more fun are the motorcycles. Riders do not wear helmets in general, and we’ve seen a number of kids on the back on them. On the way to dinner our first night here, a man on a fancy crotch rocket cut us off at a fair clip, then turned back to laugh at us before popping a wheelie. I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough to snap a shot, but the insane rider held the wheelie for a few blocks, gunning his motor and generally behaving like a lunatic. All I could think about was what a mess he’d be if he lost control of his bike. We came across another biker who’d crashed his bike two nights later, and things did not look good for him, even though emergency crews were at the scene of the accident.
Travelling by car is truly nuts here. I swear I’ll never complain about being stuck in Edmonton traffic again.
copyright 2012: http://bluespeckledpup.com