By Saleh al Shaibany — I might have dozed off on the sofa when I heard the terrible crashing sound. It came from the street. I parted the blind and looked outside at the road. There was a small cloud of smoke rising from a small car. It was battered at the passenger door.
There were all the signs of a horrible accident. Out of curiosity more than compassion, I walked out of my office and ran to the road. A crowd was already there and someone was frantically pressing the buttons of her mobile phone.
I noticed a white van facing the opposite direction with a huge dent on the front. A quick assessment told me that the van did not stop at the traffic lights and hit the small car. Someone shouted saying that a child was trapped under a seat.
Two brave people went to help. I saw a limp body of, perhaps, a six-year-old girl being rushed to another car. The driver of the small car was laid on the ground, perhaps unconscious or even lifeless. I searched for the van’s driver. He was nowhere to be seen. I learnt later that he had vanished from the scene.
The ambulance came a good 20 minutes later and the medical attendants complained that accident victims should not be moved. Someone in the crowd lost his temper. We understood his argument. Twenty minutes was a long time. It was enough for doctors to save someone’s life. If a victim was going to die, it is better they died in hospital than on the hot tarmac. But why should road accidents happen at all? People like the van driver take away lives while in a tearing hurry to get some job done. It was a delivery van and he might well have blamed his employers for working on a tight schedule.
In Oman, statistics show that six people died every week on the roads — people who never returned home because of someone else’s negligence. Yes, at one time or another, all of us tend to drive carelessly. We either lose concentration while in deep thought or we just want to be somewhere in a hurry.
I know of a woman who always leaves a glass of water on the table when her husband drives to office. She drinks the water when he comes back safely. It is not meant to calm her nerves. Just her way of celebrating his safe return when she sees him opening the door of their house.
The problem is that road killers, if you could put it that way, get away lightly. Rarely does anybody spend more than three months in prison for causing road deaths. Most of them just get their insurance company to pay compensation. They get on the road the next day and continue with their lives as if nothing has happened.
A man who lost the use of his legs from an intoxicated driver, is still bitter about it. Who can blame him? Ten years after the accident, he is still in a wheelchair while the other men continue to terrorise the roads.
Why should these killers on the roads get away lightly? I understand it is difficult to lock them away for a long time, but at least they should get their licence suspended for many years, if not for life. They defend by saying that such incidents are ‘accidental’ even though the driver is under the influence of alcohol.
Statistically, more people die from the wheels of careless drivers than from the hands of cold-blooded murderers. When you speed excessively, you are intoxicated or break traffic rules, then you are unequivocally responsible if you injure someone on the road.