Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Driving in Qatar

Almost every day, the two articles garnering the greatest number of hits have to do with new traffic rules in Kuwait and in Qatar. I think I wrote the posts in 2009. Here is what the US Department of State has to say to US Nationals about driving in Qatar:

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Qatar, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Qatar is provided for general reference only and is subject to change at any time. Current traffic regulations may be obtained through the Ministry of Interior’s Traffic Police.

Short-term visitors should obtain a valid International Driving Permit prior to arrival and should not drive in Qatar on a U.S. driver’s license. New and prospective residents should obtain a permanent Qatari Driving License immediately after arrival. To obtain a Qatari driver’s license, U.S. citizens need to pass a driving exam, including a road test. Short-term visitors and business travelers can also obtain a Temporary Qatari Driving License by presenting their U.S. driver’s license at any branch of Qatar’s Traffic Police.

Traffic accidents are among Qatar’s leading causes of death. Safety regulations in Qatar are improving, thanks to a more stringent traffic law adopted in October 2007 and a country-wide traffic safety campaign. However, informal rules of the road and the combination of local and third-country-national driving customs often prove frustrating for first-time drivers in Qatar. The combination of Qatar’s extensive use of roundabouts, many road construction projects and the high speeds at which drivers may travel can prove challenging. The rate of automobile accidents due to driver error and excessive speed is declining but remains higher than in the United States. In rural areas, poor lighting, wandering camels and un-shouldered roads present other hazards.

Despite the aggressive driving on Qatar’s roads, drivers should avoid altercations or arguments over traffic incidents, particularly with Qatari citizens who, if insulted, have filed complaints with local police that resulted in the arrest and overnight detention of U.S. citizens. Drivers can be held liable for injuries to other persons involved in a vehicular accident, and local police have detained U.S. citizens overnight until the extent of the person’s injuries were known. Due to its conservative Islamic norms, Qatar maintains a zero-tolerance policy against drinking and driving. Qatar’s Traffic Police have arrested Americans for driving after consuming amounts of alcohol at even smaller levels normally accepted in the U.S.

Any motor vehicle over five years old cannot be imported into the country. For specific information concerning Qatari driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact either the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, DC or the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in Houston, Texas.

There are things that the Department of State is too diplomatic to tell you, and that people living there will not write for fear of having a travel ban put against them, a case filed against them for ‘insulting’ a national or the government.

The beautiful roads in Qatar were wonderful when they had a tenth of the cars on the road they have now. There are two categories of “most dangerous.” One category is the expat $200 car held together with gum and rubber bands that breaks down in the worst possible place, or has a blow-out, or hits someone because the driver not only doesn’t have a license, he also doesn’t know how to drive.

Although there are rules about what trucks are allowed to haul and how it is to be tied down, the laws are ignored and unenforced. It is still important never to travel behind or beside a truck carrying cement blocks. They look like they are not secured. They are not secured. Watch out, too, for any truck delivering bottled water (that makes a huge mess all over the roundabout) or sheep or cows, which regularly overturn.

The worst hazard of all is Qatari male drivers between 11 and 35 years old. They own the roads. They will drive on the sidewalks, down the wrong way of a six lane highway to get to the roundabout, through red lights. They will push you into an unsafe roundabout with the Hummer daddy bought for their 12th birthday. If you insult a Qatari young male driver in any way, they may block you, stop you and threaten you, and no one, least of all the police, will come to your aid. They know no speed limits, blow through stop lights, harass female expat drivers, and they pay no fines for traffic violations. For a short time, the law was applied somewhat equally to all, but there were so many outraged Qataris paying the humungous fines that no one enforced the law against the Qataris anymore, and you rarely see the police stopping anyone except the poorest of the poor.

If you want to drive in Qatar, you will want a sturdy car to get over the unpaved areas and the roads torn up for infrastructure improvements, as well as for protection against the aggressive Qatari male drivers and the accidents that may not be your fault but cannot be avoided. You will want to drive only during the lowest traffic times of the day, if possible. Even during the summer, when much of the population goes elsewhere, anywhere, to avoid the heat, night traffic on the major ring roads, the major arterial roads and on the Corniche is gridlock.

The Department of State will also not tell you that if you are ever in trouble on the road, you are certain to have many kind older Qatari men stop and render assistance. They will insist on giving you water, and fixing whatever they can fix, or at the very least waiting with you until help comes. If they think you are lost as you journey around Qatar, they will make sure you get where you are going. There is a long tradition of taking good care of the guest, and of civility among the Qataris, but mostly it seems to kick in when they mature – like around 35 or so.

This may not be the truth for everyone; we all have our own stories, horror stories and stories of kindness. It’s a little bit of the wild west, driving in Qatar.

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March 8, 2012 - Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Circle of Life and Death, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Qatar

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