Driving in Qatar

 

Driving in Qatar

 

 

Rule of the Road

Traffic in Qatar drives on the right side of the road, in common with other Middle East countries.

 

 

Statistics (year 2007 figures)

Qatar

UK comparison

Annual fatalities

199

3,298

Registered motor vehicles

605,699

34,327,520

Motorisation rate, (motor vehicles / 1,000 population)

721

565

Fatality rate, (deaths / 10,000 motor vehicles)

3.3

1.0

Fatality risk, (road deaths / 100,000 population)

24

5.4

Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)

78

5

Fatalities / 1,000 km road

162

8

Road length, km

1,230

392,342

Paved roads, %

90

100

Road density, (road length km / land area km2)

0.1

1.6

Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)

492

87

Population density, (population / km2)

74

249

 

 

Statistics Summary

Despite Qatar being a flat desert country with almost zero bad weather, a low population density, with wide straight modern roads and well designed modern road infrastructure, the proportion of fatalities is very high.

Also, the fact that Qatar is the 3rd wealthiest nation having the 11th highest motorisation rate influences the fatality rate, inasmuch as having more cars in the country means that the fatality rate per motor vehicle is artificially reduced. The local Qatari population is only 300,000 whilst there are an additional 1,200,000 foreign workers from all around the world but predominantly from Asia, and most of these foreign workers have no opportunity to drive. This large and artificially increased non-driving population also has the effect of significantly reducing the fatality risk figures. Without this artificially reduced fatality rate, and artificially increased population, the fatality quotient would be significantly higher, and could be one of the highest in the world.

In Qatar 44% of all fatalities are car drivers, another 25% are their passengers, 27% are Asian worker pedestrians, and 93% of all fatalities are male.

 

 

 

 

Driving Environment

Qatar is a hot flat desert country. Rainfall occurs on only a few days per year, and may be limited to a very light shower. Flooding occurs typically once per year after a few hours of rain, there are no significant wadis in Qatar. Localised dust clouds can cause some problems for drivers when windy. Qatar is mostly stony desert, with some sand dunes in the south east, and sabkha (a salty crust over a muddy subsurface) around much of the coast. The Corniche around Doha bay has been made to look visually attractive with lots of palm trees, flowers, and lawns, similar extending to a few other roads. Most roads have an excellent surface, and the road infrastructure is generally good.

 

 

 

 

Driver Behaviour

Drivers here have little knowledge and absolutely no respect for any road rules. Speed cameras are now used on all main roads, but many drivers continue to drive at very excessive speeds between the cameras, and at excessive speeds on roads not fitted with cameras, including in residential areas. Unfortunately, many of the foreign workers here tend to adopt and follow the bad habits of the local population. There is no proactive road traffic policing in Qatar, only reactive policing after a crash.

Many drivers here appear to have a patience threshold measured in milliseconds, they commonly demand the car ahead to move out of their way even when it is not physically possible within the laws of science. Many drivers have the objective of ‘must overtake’ in every type of driving situation, even where the gain is zero, and when it is both illegal and dangerous as shown in 3 of the photographs here. Tailgating is very common and extreme in Qatar, some have even been known to drive so close they actually shunt the car ahead.

 

 

 

 

Vehicles

Qatar has been named the LandCruiser capital of the world, using the term LandCruiser as a generic term meaning all types of 4x4 SUVs, but typically larger models with larger engines. The vehicle stock is relatively new with regard to all vehicle types. Many 4x4 SUVs are fitted with sand tyres to give increased flotation and traction in sand dunes, however this type of tread pattern is not so stable at higher speeds, and is very unstable on a wet surface. There is no tyre law here, it isn’t uncommon to see any type of vehicle travelling on not only bald tyres, but tyres worn down to the carcass. There are few motorcycles except for pizza delivery.

 

 

Speed Limits

Speed is measured in km/h. Signage is the same as the ISO (European) system but the figures are dual language, Arabic numbers above European numbers within the same sign. Signage is very good everywhere, with speed limit signs every time a driver joins a new road, and when continuing along the same road there are signs again every time the driver leaves every roundabout.

Speed limits in towns are typically rather higher than would be seen in UK or Europe: residential areas typically at 50 km/h or 60 km/h, commercial & shopping areas 60 km/h or 80 km/h, main roads 80 km/h or 100 km/h. Outside the city the national speed limit is 120 km/h.

To curb the previously excessive speeds by all drivers everywhere, speed cameras are now in use on main roads, the cameras are preceded by a full-size repeater speed limit sign to reduce harsh braking. The cameras are set with a very low tolerance, the camera is triggered at just 3 km/h above the applicable limit.

 

 

 

 

Traffic Signals

There are 3 different traffic signal sequences in Qatar

1.   The traditional 4 phase sequence is still in use at some older junctions;

2.   The new style 4 phase sequence without the red & amber after the red, but with a flashing-green after the green phase, i.e. green > flashing-green > amber > red > green, is used at large new crossroads;

3.   At signalised roundabouts, the new style as 2 above, but now extended to a 7 part sequence with an additional ‘flashing-amber, then amber’, in the middle of the red phase, i.e. the sequence is –

green > flashing-green > amber > red > flashing-amber > amber > red > green.  The flashing amber means give way, and you can drive on if clear. The flashing amber on one leg of the roundabout coincides with the green for the traffic approaching from ahead. This is a surprisingly efficient method of signalising a roundabout.

All major junctions also have dual-acting red light cameras, running a red light will automatically generate a violation resulting in penalty points and a fine equivalent to almost US$ 1,700.  However, the second action of these red light cameras is also to measure speed, if a driver accelerates to beat the lights whilst still green and exceeds the speed limit, a speeding violation is automatically issued.

 

 

 

 

Road signs

Regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, hazard, directional, and advice signs all follow the standard ISO (European) system. All worded signs are dual language written in Arabic and English. All signs showing numbers display Arabic numbers above European numbers, so all speed limits, distances, etc are readable by everybody. However, due to a high number of crashes resulting in demolition of road signs, some signs are missing. Hazard posts are rare, only located on a few rural roads, and these typically display a white reflector on both sides of the road.

 

 

Road markings

Most road markings are in white, yellow is used occasionally and seems interchangeable with white, as the law refers to white only. Almost all main roads are dual carriageway, it is rare to find 2-way traffic except on residential roads. However, double white continuous lines are sometimes placed, and its twin sister, the single white continuous line, both having the same meaning but both equally disrespected by almost all drivers. Road markings tend to become blackened with time due to a build-up of tyre rubber and a lack of rain to wash the road clean.

 

 

 

 

Kerb markings

Kerb stones within 15 metres of all junctions and some other places are painted alternately black / white to denote no parking. Unfortunately this is contrary to many other countries in the region: the normal convention in many countries is that black / yellow means no parking, and black / white means parking permitted. Unfortunately in Qatar, black / white kerb markings are used to denote both parking and no-parking areas resulting in severe confusion.

Some roads have double yellow lines painted, UK style, along the road edge to infer no-parking, but without legal status.

 

 

 

 

Roundabouts

The Qatari government has not published any booklet of rules or guidance for roundabout use since 1987, that version opens with the phrase “Good Luck” !!  Many drivers have no idea of any of the normal rules. Roundabouts are actually well signed and well marked with approach lanes, give way lines, circulating lanes, and exit lanes. Most large roundabouts have 3 lanes on approach, 3 lanes for circulating traffic, and 3 lanes for exit. Some busy roundabouts are now signalised which improves traffic flow. There are several common bad habits:  Many drivers are in the habit of forcing their way onto a roundabout, not wanting to give way to circulating traffic. Waiting to emerge, many drivers stop a car length after the give way line, thereby blocking the outer circulating lane and causing increased congestion. Approach and entry speeds can be very high, up to 100 km/h at some roundabouts, and straight-lining of roundabouts is a national epidemic, regardless of traffic on either side. Side-swipes at roundabouts are a major type of collision here. Some drivers will use any approach lane for any exit, i.e. approaching in the right lane to turn left, or approaching in the left lane to turn right, then cause severe congestion as they force their way across other lanes. Very few drivers signal, and those that do often signal incorrectly. Beware also of drivers parking on the circulating carriageway of a roundabout, many use roundabouts as a convenient meeting point for a chat, totally oblivious to the chaos, congestion, and danger they cause.

 

 

 

 

Intersections

All junctions of all sizes are well marked and signed, although some markings wear feint or blackened with time, and some signs have been demolished by crashes and not yet replaced. Most major signal-controlled cross-roads have dot-markings to help drivers follow an appropriate arc where turning left. Box junctions are now painted at some major intersections, and are respected only because of a hefty fine imposed for violations. Always check left and right at every intersection, even at a traffic signal when your light is green – some drivers will run through a red light during any part of the sequence.

 

 

 

 

Pedestrian Crossings

Qatar has several types of pedestrian crossings, including zebra and pelican crossings. All types here including pelican crossings are painted with white zebra markings. The law says drivers must give way to pedestrians, but many drivers don’t stop except at a red signal. If you are stopping, slow early and ensure the traffic behind is also slowing. As a pedestrian, it is generally best to wait for an empty road, or only cross after traffic has stopped, never assume approaching traffic will stop, the usual reaction is a blast of the horn to get off the road.

 

 

Railway Crossings

Qatar doesn’t have a railway system, although a future system is proposed.

 

 

 

 

Highways

Doha presently has 6 concentric ringroads named A, B, C, D, E, & F. They all actually run in concentric semicircles centred on the bay. There are proposals for this system to be extended several more times. There are also a number of radial routes linking the ringroads. These roads are all of high quality, multilane, some with grade-separated clover-leaf type junctions, however some sliproads are unnecessarily short. Unfortunately some of these roads also have U turns which are very dangerous. Speed limits vary depending on the distance between junctions. Roads outside of Doha are mostly of good quality.

 

 

 

 

City Driving

Roads around Doha are often congested for many hours of the day from 06.00 am to midnight. Most roads have adequate direction signs, although locating the correspondingly named areas of the city on a road map is not always easy. Many main roads also have a service road running parallel behind the footpath, and many drivers use this as an additional short-cut lane when the main carriageway is congested, forcing their way back onto the main carriageway before the next major junction, then attempting to cross several lanes to turn left. On a 3 lane road the best advice is generally: stay out of the right hand lane, because this is the lane where traffic is slowing to turn off and where traffic is emerging onto the highway without giving way. Stay out of the left lane unless you are turning left 500 metres ahead, as this is where some drivers like to travel at higher speeds, and this is where many multiple shunts occur. Use the centre lane generally, as this presents the fewest problems. Minor streets tend to have a large number of speed-humps, typically either side of a mosque. These humps are not to any geometrical dimensions, and many tend to be very severe. Some minor back streets have numerous potholes of amazing depth – dropping a wheel into some of them may require towing out.

 

 

 

 

Rural Roads

Around Qatar in the north and west there are a number of rural routes. Most of Qatar is very flat, so these roads are typically straight and level, although slight crests and gentle bends do exist. Some of these roads are being upgraded to dual carriageway even though they carry little traffic, dualing primarily to reduce the number of head-on crashes. Be wary also of camels, oryx – as these are the size of a large deer, and ostrich, as all can be difficult to see at speed, and all of these have the ability to kill all occupants of a car if struck at speed. Don’t assume that if a road has camel-fencing along both sides that there won’t be animals on the road, if a car has crashed through the fence the fence may not be repaired for some time, allowing animals to stray onto the road.

 

 

 

 

Night Driving

Night driving in Doha city is relatively safe, all main roads have good quality street lighting, although residential roads are not illuminated.

However, it is not recommended to drive outside the city at night due to the possibility of large animals on the road, the need to maintain speeds below 60 km/h in case of animals, and the very high speeds of some other traffic.

 

 

 

 

Parking

Parking spaces are difficult to find in most parts of Doha for much of the day and evening. Most parking is free, especially at shopping malls, but when shopping malls and offices are designed and constructed, the number of spaces is always woefully inadequate to cope with typical visitor numbers. Parking on the road anywhere is an offence, except in a marked bay. Parking on an area of raw desert – it’s typically flat, hard, & stony, is not a problem, but parking on a paved area not marked for parking will result in a parking ticket.

 

 

Oddities

Something to watch out for … U turns, some major highways have U turn lanes across the centre. Just imagine having U turns on the M25 around London, or on a USA beltway !  These U turns are very dangerous for other traffic when a driver crosses several lanes and/or slows in the overtaking lane to commence the U turn. It is dangerous for the driver slowing to make the U turn, and especially when attempting to accelerate again in the outside lane of the new carriageway, and very dangerous for other drivers approaching the U turn in the new carriageway when a slower vehicle crosses one or several lanes in front of them.

 

©Keith Lane 2009