Traffic in Qatar - Driving You Insane

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 time.

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.

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