The growing number of traffic accidents in the Kingdom kill hundreds of people every year and cause damages worth more than SR 87 billion.
Dr. Essam bin Hassan Kawther of King Abdulaziz University estimated the total value of economic damages caused by road accidents at SR 87.18 billion annually.
Kawther’s estimate was based on a study conducted on 1,100 people involved in accidents, 872 of which were injured.
An average of 17 die on Saudi roads each day, according to a report by the General Directorate of Traffic. The World Health Organization found Saudi Arabia to have the world’s highest number of deaths from road accidents, which now make up the country’s principal cause of death in adult males aged 16 to 36.
Kawther presented the study at a seminar organized by the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology in Riyadh. “Crazy driving, speeding, crossing red lights and use of mobile phones while driving are the main reasons for road accidents,” he said.
According to the study, 97 percent of accident victims required transfer to hospitals, the average cost of treatment at emergency wards reaching SR 4,123 and SR 20,186 for those admitted.
Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Suwailem, vice president of KACST, emphasized the importance of conducting more research on traffic issues in order to cut down on the number of accidents.
“KACST will encourage researchers at Saudi universities and research centers to conduct in-depth studies on problems facing the Kingdom’s development,” Al-Suwailem said.
Dr. Maher Al-Jadeed of Prince Sultan Military Medical City, spoke on medical facilities for the treatment of people injured in road accidents. He said injuries related to shoulders and other parts of the body accounted for 41.68 percent, followed by head and face injuries estimated at 33.52 percent and stomach and pelvis injuries at 14.32 percent.
Among those injured in road accidents, 79.62 were Saudis, 19.63 percent expatriates, while the identity of an estimated 0.74 percent could not be established.
Al-Jadeed said youths aged between 15 and 45 accounted for the largest number of road accident victims, followed by those aged between 5 and 15. About 75.48 percent had minor injuries while 9.3 percent had serious injuries, he pointed out.
There are 35 specialized centers in the Kingdom to treat accident patients, he said. Among these centers, 80 percent belong to the public sector and 17.14 percent to the private sector.
Saudis and expatriates contacted by Arab News expressed their concern over the growing number of road accident cases in the Kingdom and urged traffic police to take tough punitive action against those who violate traffic rules and endanger the lives of other road users.
According to Ezzuddin Hafiz, a Saudi teacher, many people do not know how to drive nor are they aware of traffic regulations. “Some underaged minors drive without licenses and cause accidents, endangering the lives of others,” he told Arab News.
Hafiz cited the case of his friend who lost his wife and two children as a result of accident caused by a teenager who did not have a driver's license. “There should be strict control on issuing licenses,” he said, adding that many people get licenses by using wasta (connections) or by bribing officials.
Ezzuddin agreed that the Saher system was instrumental in reducing the number of accidents. “We cannot have Saher everywhere. We need strict implementation of the law. Police should blacklist reckless drivers and withdraw their licenses when they repeat the offense,” he added.
Mansoor Sajid, president of group finance and control at Alhamrani Group of Companies, emphasized the need to place strict control on using mobile phones while driving, saying it could further increase accidents in the country.
“I would say that the use of mobile phones while driving is the principle reason for accidents. Some even send text messages while driving, putting the lives of others at risk,” Sajid said, calling upon traffic police to launch a campaign against mobile users.
The government should also educate the masses through print and electronic media, as well as Friday sermons. “This is a serious issue. Phone calls and text messaging will detract our attention and an accident can take place within a friction of a second.”
For Abdullateef Nadukandy, planning manager at United Yousef Mohammed Naghi, lack of discipline is the main issue. “People are not following the rules. We have to learn from countries like South Korea where people strictly follow traffic regulations,” he said. Police should track down reckless drivers and punish them in order to make the Kingdom’s roads safer.
Over the past two decades, Saudi Arabia has recorded 4 million traffic accidents, which have led to 86,000 deaths and 611,000 injuries, 7 percent of which resulted in permanent disability.
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