Those who have traveled in the Middle East will be familiar with
how people constantly complain about the driving. In fact, you could
say that the greatest fear of the Western expatriate is the
traffic. To those unfamiliar with the Middle East, the
traffic can be summarized in one word: aggressive.
The root of the erratic driving patterns in Doha, Qatar's
capital, can be found in the vehicle preferences of those
who live there: large, raised 4x4 vehicles with tread-less
desert tires, which they drive like small Italian sports
cars. So, basically, you have wannabe Italian sports drivers
behind the wheels of Japanese tanks.
On my first day in Qatar, I saw more than five near misses
on the highway and a presumably fatal crash, which featured
a crumbled sedan t-boned by a 3,860lb Toyota Land Cruiser, in
the shadow of our hotel. On my fifth day in Qatar, I
observed a similar crash in a strip mall parking lot. On my
sixth day, our driver, by weaving through heavy traffic at
high speeds, delivered us home from the desert in record
However, when chatting with Rakan Al-Mosallam, the Head of
Housing Services at the Sidra Medical and Research Center, I
was assured that there are new penalties in place for those
who disobey the rules of the road. He told me that running a
traffic light at 180 kilometres per hour could bring a
US$1,650 fine. Running a traffic light and killing someone, he
explained, could bring a more inconvenient price tag in
court. Going 20 kilometres per hour over the speed limit
brings a US$82 penalty; driving over 200 kilometres per hour
on any road will put you before a judge in Qatari court.
Mandatory front seatbelts and a no-cellphone policy are new
rules being applied to the Qatari roads.
I then asked Rakan why almost every vehicle in Qatar was
painted white (I assumed the answer could be something to do
with reflecting sunlight). He answered simply that in the
case of scratching or a minor collision, white is the
easiest and most inexpensive colour to buff out.
Qatar is currently in the process of replacing its chaotic
and confusing traffic circles (which took the better part of
half an hour to be explained to me) with streetlights.
Normally I would see this as progress and feel reassured,
but considering our driver ran or rolled through many stop
signs, I doubt this development will change anything.
Pedestrians cannot escape the wrath of Qatari traffic
either. Due to large construction projects, many of the
sidewalks are blocked or nonexistent. Therefore a
pedestrian is left with two options: walk alongside the edge
of Qatar's poorly lit roads, or dart across five lanes of
unpredictable high-speed traffic to a sidewalk on the
opposite side. Crossing at streetlights is not an option
since they are sometimes separated by entire kilometres.
Traffic in Qatar is something an expatriate must deal with
when they arrive. Although daunting in the beginning,
expatriates explained to me that it takes about a week to
adapt to the chaotic circumstances. If you wish to take
matters into your own hands, and drive yourself, it can take
over a month to acquire your Qatari driver's license. So
until then: sit down, strap in, and brace yourself for the
wildest ride of your life!
Driving & Drivers' Licenses
Since the Canadian license is endorsed, Canadians may apply
for a Qatari driver's license upon arrival. But it is more
complicated for Americans:
Americans must write a written test and book a road test to receive their license.
The waiting period for a road test is often more than a month.
You may fail the test only three times.
It is recommended you get your international driver's license before coming to Qatar. Although many insurance companies will not insure you in Qatar, it is a good license to have in case you decided to travel abroad (i.e. Europe).
Since Qatar recognizes a Bahrain license, if you are desperate for a valid driver's license, you may travel to Bahrain and apply for a license there. However you may access Bahrain only via airplane and therefore it can become expensive.
The Qatari driver's license is based on a 14 point per annum demerit system.