Driving in Oman

 

Driving in Oman

 

 

Rule of the Road

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

 

 

Statistics (year 2007 figures)

Oman

UK comparison

Annual fatalities

798

3,298

Registered motor vehicles

629,670

34,327,520

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

243

565

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

13

1.0

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

31

5.4

Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)

390

5

Fatalities / 1,000 km road

24

8

Road length, km

32,800

392,342

Paved roads, %

28

100

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

0.1

1.6

Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)

19

87

Population density, (population / km2)

8

249

 

 

Statistics Summary

Despite Oman being a large country with a very low population density, low vehicle density, and low motorisation rate, the fatality rate is surprisingly high, and rising significantly each year. Some of the reasons for this are the very long distances between places resulting in drowsiness or boredom coupled with very high driving speeds along straight flat desert roads.

 

 

 

 

Driving Environment

Oman is a tropical but hot dry desert country, most of it very flat, but with a spectacular range of mountains along the north-east coast. Most of the country sees rain only a few days per year, but when this falls on the mountains this results in severe flash floods that claims the lives of vehicle occupants every time. Never drive into any water across the road without first being certain it is shallow.

Other parts of the country are flat stony desert, some areas having large sand dunes. In other inland and coastal locations the surface is sabkha (a salty crust over a muddy subsurface) driving on this is not recommended. Roads across the plains tend to be flat and straight, but roads in the mountains tend to follow either wadi bottoms, or ridges, both being very spectacular.

The municipality of Muscat, and in some other areas, have gone to great expense to make the road network and its margins look beautiful, everywhere appears very green, and is typically tree-lined with manicured lawns, and immaculate flower beds.

Most of the road infrastructure is reasonably new, these roads are wide and generally well-engineered. The surface of all tarmac roads is very good, no potholes anywhere.

All unsurfaced roads are graded & rolled frequently, again resulting in a good surface, but often marbled, especially on bends – always slow down significantly for all hazards on graded roads.

 

 

 

 

Driver Behaviour

Drivers here generally display slightly better habits than drivers from most other Middle East countries, but many nevertheless have little patience, want to drive very fast everywhere, and overtaking is considered a ‘must do’ in every situation even where inappropriate, illegal, or dangerous. Tailgating is a way of life for some, totally oblivious to its dangers.

 

 

 

 

Vehicles

The vehicle stock of all types is relatively new, there are a larger than usual percentage of large 4x4 SUVs, motorcycles are rare. Petrol tankers and all articulated lorries display yellow rotating beacons on their roof.

 

 

Speed Limits

Speed is measured in km/h, and signs follow the ISO (European) system. The figures are dual language with Arabic numbers above European numbers within the same sign. Some signs also incorporate dual limits for cars and heavy vehicles by means of a horizontal bar splitting the sign into 2 halves, resulting in 2 symbols and 4 sets of numbers on the same sign.

Speed limits in towns are typically higher than would be the case in Europe, in some cases an 80 km/h limit is imposed in a housing area, where simultaneously there are speed humps !

Speed limits are not always signed well, and they are totally disregarded by many drivers, some travelling at double the legal limit, both in the city and elsewhere. Generally, speed limits are un-policed, although there are speed cameras on a few main roads. Fines for all traffic offences are minimal, and payment can be deferred for many years.

 

 

 

 

Traffic Signals

The sequence is the traditional 4 phase: green > amber > red > red & amber > green. At some major junctions where a higher speed limit is imposed a 5-phase sequence is in use having a flashing green after the steady green: green  > flashing-green > amber > red > red & amber > green.  This is to inform drivers that the green phase is ending to allow earlier braking.  The penalties for jumping a red light are severe: 48 hours in police custody plus a fine.

Some of the busier roundabouts are now signalised; confirm the signal colour at every sector when circulating the roundabout. It is not permitted to turn right at a red light, but many junctions have a by-pass lane facilitating right-turning traffic to clear the junction.

 

 

 

 

Road signs

Regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, hazard, directional, and advice signs are all displayed in the standard ISO (European) system. Worded signs are dual language with Arabic written above English. However, there is no standardised spelling of Arabic place names when translated to English, it is done phonetically and depending upon local accent this means any Arabic place name can have a range of different spellings in English.  Similarly with maps. Therefore, when referencing road signs to a map, both must be read phonetically emphasising the consonants and suppressing the vowels to find a match. i.e. Bald Seet is the same place as Bilad Sayt, and Azayba is the same as Athaibah.

 

 

Road markings

White is the predominant colour for all centre markings, although yellow is used for some. Yellow is specifically used for ghost island borders, speed humps, and most boundary lines. Many junctions are marked by both a give way line and a stop sign, or vice versa. Many stop lines are misplaced, some as much as 10 metres before the correct position, encouraging drivers to cross them at speed.

 

 

 

 

Kerb markings

Oman follows the regional standard for parking and no-parking areas, as used in most countries of the Middle East. Kerb stones painted alternately black/yellow denotes no-parking, typically painted at and near every junction and other places. Black/white painted kerbstones denote a parking area.

 

 

Roundabouts

Larger roundabouts typically have a 3 lane approach, 3 lanes circulating, and a 3 lane exit. It is considered mandatory in Oman to maintain the same relative lane throughout, and most roundabouts are treated quite well by most Omanis.

Many roundabouts have a bypass lane for traffic turning right, but beware that some of the rejoining sliproads are quite short.

Many roundabouts form part of a grade-separated junction below a multilane highway, some of these permit a U turn on approach to the roundabout, negating the need to circumnavigate the roundabout. Whilst this is admirable in reducing congestion, unfortunately the U turn brings traffic directly into the outside lane of traffic accelerating from the roundabout and can cause crashes.

Many roundabouts are not circular but are elliptical, so may unexpectedly tighten in radius, catching out the unwary, keep your speed down. Many busier roundabouts in Muscat are now signalised.

 

 

 

 

Intersections

There are a growing number of grade-separated junctions on major highways across Oman, typically of clover-leaf and similar styles. These are generally well designed, but some drivers remain in the outer lane until very close to the exit then rapidly cross all lanes much later than is safe.

 

 

 

 

Pedestrian Crossings

Zebra crossings are common in towns, but are not generally respected by the driving population. Similar rules to the UK are in force, mandating a stop if a pedestrian is on the crossing, and prohibiting overtaking approaching and at the crossing. As a pedestrian, always wait until the road is clear of approaching traffic in all lanes before starting to cross.

 

 

Railway Crossings

Oman although a large country with flat plains, does not have any railway system.

 

 

Highways

There is an extensive highway network across Oman. In Muscat many of the highways were originally constructed with 2 lanes each direction, now widened to 3 lanes but with only 2 lanes at each flyover, so instead of a slip-road, lane 1 becomes a lane-drop to the intersection, so through traffic needs to move into lane 2 to use the flyover, but then there is an advantageous lane-gain negating the need for joining traffic to merge to the main carriageway.

Elsewhere many minor and rural roads are being upgraded to dual carriageway status. This is primarily to reduce the risk of head-on collisions during overtaking, rather than to ease congestion, as many rural roads are lightly trafficked.

 

 

 

 

City Driving

Roads in and around Muscat are typically engineered to a good standard. Many highways and other roads have 3 or more lanes in each direction, and all are dual carriageway. As with all city traffic, highways within Muscat can become quite congested for many hours of the day. Some older parts of the city have very narrow streets with blind corners, the house walls forming the road corners without footpaths.

 

 

 

 

Rural Roads

There are several types of rural roads.  Some are tarmac surfaced.

However, many are unsurfaced tracks, especially those that run along valley bottoms along the tracks of dry river beds – wadi tracks. However, many of these wadis can be wet at times, and may carry a trickle of water through deeper pools. Never drive into water without being certain that it is shallow, and without significant current.

Other roads across the plains are of rolled and compacted gravel, named graded roads. These graded roads can have a very smooth flat surface, but because of the loose surface they are always very slippery at speed. The maximum safe speed on the best of graded surfaces should never exceed 80 km/h (50 mph) and all bends, dips, and other hazards must be traversed at much lower speeds. Also be wary of dust clouds created by other traffic. Never overtake through a dust cloud, and if a vehicle approaching from ahead is creating a dust cloud slow down and move off the side of the road – another vehicle could be overtaking it unseen in the dust and hit you head-on.

 

 

 

 

Night Driving

Night driving is no problem within Muscat city, main roads are well lit although residential areas do not have any street lighting. Major highways outside the city are also lit, however there is a constant possibility of animals on the road. Therefore, it is not recommended to travel on any rural roads after dark due to the possibility of an animal strike; camels and goats can be impossible to see until too late. On these roads never exceed 60 km/h (40 mph) at night.

 

 

 

 

Parking

Parking in Oman is becoming a growing problem. All the commercial locations around Muscat can get crowded and many are subject to a pay & display scheme, parking costs are very low, but these locations are vigorously policed with disproportionate fines for underpayment or non-payment. However, it is not legal to park on any road anywhere, day or night, unless in a marked parking bay. This includes residential areas, it is not legal to park on a road even outside a house, cars can only be parked off the road.

 

 

 

 

Oddities

Something to watch out for … minibus taxis, named locally as Baisa buses, these offer a public transport service along main roads within towns. Caution, they typically cross several lanes and stop suddenly at the kerbside to pickup or drop a passenger, creating danger for other drivers nearby.

 

©Keith Lane 2009