Loss of seven Emiratis in a pile-up at Salalah highlights dangers of travelling in the sultanate, where the roads are wet and the drivers are fast.
Oman police blame drivers for number of Emiratis killed on roads
MUSCAT/ABU DHABI // Three people a day die on the roads of Oman.
Last month alone 68 people lost their lives on the sultanate's roads, including seven members of an Emirati family in a three-vehicle pile-up in the southern resort of Salalah.
And September is hardly off to a promising start.
"We already have 11 people dead in the first three days of this month, including [an] Emirati woman and her maid, in various car crashes across the country," said Fahim Darweish, a member of the Omani Road Safety Association.
"We may end up with a bigger toll of accidents and deaths in the last six months of this year because drivers continue to drive recklessly."
There were 4,177 road accidents in Oman in the first six months of 2012 - up 14.7 per cent on a year earlier - and 539 deaths, up 20.3 per cent.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are 21.3 road traffic deaths per 100,000 population each year in Oman. That is well below the UAE rate of 37.1 but well above Kuwait's 16.9 and Bahrain's 12.1.
Police are clear about the cause of the Omani carnage. "It is speeding and carelessness that kill people on the roads," they said in a statement. "Most of these accidents are caused by people who overtake or fail to observe road traffic laws.
"The second reason, some drivers don't maintain their vehicles regularly. They drive with bald tyres or just don't bother to repair the brakes."
Last week, Col Saif Abdullah Al Haj Al Ka'abi, an Emirati from Al Ain, died with six of his children after their car hit a lorry and rolled over. Col Saif's wife, the sole survivor, remains in hospital in Al Ain.
On Saturday, seven Emiratis were injured in a head-on crash in the southern town of Maqshan. They were airlifted to the UAE from hospital and are receiving treatment.
Mr Darweish urged the Omani government to introduce tougher penalties for dangerous drivers.
"No one, as far as I can recall, has been convicted for accidentally killing someone on the road," he said.
"We need to make the worst traffic offenders accountable and punished. We also need to introduce points for offenders where their licences can be suspended or eventually revoked when they cause too many accidents."
But motorists have a different view. Many blame constant roadworks for the recent spate of crashes.
"They are forever repairing or extending roads, making it dangerous for drivers," said Nasser Ghaithy, a 36-year-old civil engineer. "Sometimes the traffic merges in a single [lane] after coming in from four lanes."
Officials insist that the works - worth 112 million rials (Dh1.1bn) this year alone - will make the roads safer. "It is a poor excuse to blame road constructions and repairs for drivers' carelessness," said Khalid Al Hassani, a project engineer at the transport ministry.
"We spend a lot of money to make our highways safe. These people should be more careful when they are on the roads and be more responsible."
And accidents are hardly a new phenomenon. One Omani police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said the stretch of road where Col Saif and his family died had seen many casualties in the past, and was currently being renovated.
He said the main issue was not the roads, but fatigue and carelessness.
"Many Emiratis like to drive late at night and set out on the long journey at 12am," the officer said. "I had to warn an Emirati driving his family back from Salalah on the first 50km of his more than 1,100km trip back to Dubai. I don't know if he made it back safe or not."
The wetter climate and lower visibility in Salalah also posed problems for those accustomed to dry and clear conditions in the Emirates.
And yet, the officer noted, some young hotheads do not slow down. "When they see the rain they roll down their windows, blast the music and drive even more recklessly."
For a safe trip, he recommended researching the roads and petrol stations and getting a good night's rest before a long journey, leaving early in the morning to cover most of the distance in daylight, stopping for rests if tired, not overcrowding the car and not speeding.
"I have been driving this road for more than 11 years and never once had a problem. As long as you drive safely and pay close attention to the road, there should be no problem."