Rules of the road — A little cultural perspective

A person moaned to me the other day that he was tired of heavy traffic and loony drivers in Sheridan. I thought to myself, “Man, this guy needs some perspective.” He should try driving in Saudi Arabia.

I have. I worked and drove in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for two years and count myself lucky to have escaped numerous close calls, daily. Drivers in that part of the world have a different idea about rules of the road than we do.

One rule seems to be “use your horn a lot.” The more you use it the safer you’ll be. I don’t believe most of the drivers could drive a car if it didn’t have a good horn; to them, it’s the most important part of the car. There is kind of a Morse code of honking. At intersections Saudi’s lean heavily on the horn and blare it all the way through to warn others that “I’m coming through. Stay clear.” Short Staccato blasts, (beep, beep, beep), are used to warn drivers approaching on a side road to “stay out of the way because I’m coming by.” Longer, louder blasts are used to tell the driver in front of you to speed up or get out of the way. These signals are usually accompanied by a shaking fist and angry grimace, plainly visible in the rear view mirror of the car in front. It’s road rage at its zenith. I have witnessed an angry and frustrated driver on a busy two lane road take to the borrow pit to pass slower moving vehicles. No one seems to get upset about it; it’s an accepted practice. The whole place is desert, so why not make good use of it?

Another rule is “never look right or left and avoid eye contact with other drivers.” Some drivers in Saudi Arabia have a “head in the sand mentality.” That is, “if I don’t see you and I run into you it’s your fault.” It is not uncommon for a driver on a four lane highway to suddenly swerve across three lanes of traffic to exit a highway without so much as glance in either direction. And if there is a multi-car pileup as a result well, heck, it’s not the drivers fault. He didn’t see them. It’s also possible the driver laid on the horn to warn everyone he was turning. So, hey, it’s not his fault. They didn’t get out of the way.

There are many other driving idiosyncrasies (to us anyway) to be found in Saudi Arabia and, generally, in that part of the world. It’s really a cultural thing; an attitude and approach to life that is foreign to most of us. And so it is what it is. If you’re a guest in that country you just have to learn what’s going on so you can be prepared and protect yourself; but the learning process can leave you with a jagged set of jangled nerves and really white knuckles.

However, there is one practice in Saudi Arabia that I could never accept or get used to and it always caught me by surprise; and to tell you the truth, it scared me every time it happened. Some Saudi drivers use their cars for sport at your expense. They consider it huge fun to drive down very dark roads with their lights out and tail gate your vehicle. You have no idea they are there. Then suddenly they flash their lights on bright and pass with a swishing roar and blaring horn, probably laughing all the way as they look for their next victim.

Compared to that, driving in Sheridan is pretty darn civilized don’t you think?

 

Tom Ringley was re-elected as a county commissioner in 2012. He is the author of four books. Ringley grew up in Sheridan and returned home in 1990 after 27 years as an Air Force office. He has been involved with the local hospital foundation, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and has been the facilities director at the county fairgrounds.


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