DUBAI // Every 60 minutes in 2014 a person will die on Saudi Arabia's roads if the country's accident rate continues at its current pace.
There were 600,000 crashes recorded in the kingdom last year, according to Dr Hany Hassan, assistant professor of Transportation Engineering at King Saud University. As a result, 7,638 people were killed.
The 2012 crash statistics marked an 8 per cent increase from 2011. And fatalities have almost doubled since 2003 when crashes were to blame for 4,293 deaths.
"The rate of increase in the number of road accidents in the kingdom is substantial compared with the relevant figures of other developing countries and the GCC," said Dr Hassan during his presentation at the GCC Fatal and Horrific Accidents Prevention Conference yesterday.
To put the Saudi figures in perspective, 6,700 car crashes causing injury were recorded in the UAE in 2011, according to a study by the Department of Economic Development. Seven hundred and twenty people died as a result.
"This is not a traffic accident problem anymore, this is traffic terrorism," said Ali Al Kamali, the managing director of Datamatix, organiser of the two-day conference at the Dusit Thani Dubai hotel.
"The number of deaths per year in Iraq and Afghanistan from war and terrorism is less than these fatal accidents in Saudi."
According to the latest United Nations statistics, civilian deaths as a result of war in Iraq and Afghanistan last year totalled 7,327.
"The kingdom now has the highest rate of traffic accidents in the world," said Mr Al Kamali. "Material losses equate to 13 billion Saudi Riyals per year. One third of hospital and medical resources are taken up by accident victims."
Dr Hassan's most recent traffic study compared 11,545 reports of crashes in Riyadh that caused injury with a similar sample of accidents in Orange County, Florida.
"We see that 23.2 per cent of the accidents were fatal in Riyadh compared with 1.8 per cent in Florida," said Dr Hassan. "We found that the three major causes of the accidents were speeding, sudden lane changing and swerving, and distractions. Also 21 per cent of the accidents were head-on collisions."
The study also found that most accidents were caused by drivers between the ages of 18 and 24. "We found that 93 per cent of the time the accident was the fault of the driver, rather than a fault in the road or vehicle," said Dr Hassan.
A survey sample of 242 men in the that age group, half of whom had already been involved in a serious accidents, found that one of the main causes of reckless driving was racing and testing the performance of the vehicle.
"The findings revealed that aggressive violations such as burnouts - pressing the brakes and accelerator at the same time while driving - were the most significant factor affecting the young Saudi drivers," he said.
Dr Hassan said monetary penalties did not have the same effect in Saudi Arabia because of the high amount of disposable income.
Dr Musaed Al Najar, a member of the board of directors at the Kuwait society for traffic safety, said there had been diseases that were solved faster than the epidemic of fatal road accidents. "How can it be that traffic deaths continue to increase without any action for more than a decade now?"
Dr Hassan believes the problem is not a matter of inaction on the part of authorities, but a result of the lack of clear and reliable data on crashes.
"Now we have a better picture of what is happening and the government is showing importance to the matter," he said. "Much of the government's efforts need to be redirected to address the problem areas we have found here."