The tragic slaying of an employee of the automated traffic control and management system, Saher, by a citizen from Alquwayiyah has come to raise more questions about the traffic system and electronically recorded violations.
The tragic accident 180 km west from Riyadh was preceded by a number of similar serious accidents that indicate an impression of rejection, or at least, inability to accept the conditions of Saher.
According to Brig. Abdulrahman Al-Meqbil, traffic director of Riyadh and manager of Saher, the automated system has successfully reduced deaths by 23 percent and injuries by three percent. He said overall traffic accidents had been brought down by 20 percent since the introduction of the system, which also made traffic flow smoother and got drivers to respect traffic lights.
The harsh penalties introduced by Saher are imposed on every vehicle driver that infringes traffic rules, and in case violation fees are not paid on time, they will be multiplied monthly. Some citizens and residents believe that the financial penalty is necessary for the system’s effectiveness. One characteristic of the system is that a violation will never be forgiven regardless of any mediation or whoever the violator is. Saudi gossip nowadays is preoccupied with news about Saher, and opinions on the system have been varied. Some people have expressed strong support for the system as a deterrent of vital accidents. Supporters cite many positive impacts of the system, including speed control and, consequently, a reduced number of deadly accidents as well as respect of traffic lights and the use of safety belts.
Other observers, however, have attributed the increase of traffic accidents in the Kingdom to the low cost of various vehicles as well as the low cost of crash and injury penalties. A deterrent punishment is absent for those under insurance coverage, which protects the perpetrator from any significant loss.
Some say that the way to paradise is engulfed by suspicions and doubts, and such saying could also be true when it comes to implementation of Saher regulations, which is engulfed by dangers. The problem is not how many people are pleased with the system, but to what extent the system has succeeded to preserve lives and properties.
No doubt, the shot that killed the Saher employee and set his car on fire has been denounced and strongly deplored by entire official and popular circles. Many Saudi dignitaries and organizations expressed resentment, demanding that the system be protected against those who incite people to defy the system. These organizations and dignitaries also call for inflicting the harshest possible punishment against such aggressive people who threaten vehicles and personnel of Saher nationwide.
Maj. Fawaz Al-Miman, assistant police spokesman of Riyadh region, told Arab News that the security departments, accompanied by a criminal justice team and medical examiner, had investigated the criminal accident of Alquwayiyah, but no arrest had been made and the attacker was still at large. He made it clear that the security bodies would leave no stone unturned to uncover the circumstances of the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.
According to the story of the victim’s brother, Mansour Al-Maymoon, his slain brother Hamoud was on duty inside the Saher vehicle when the attacker rained the car with bullets from a machine gun. The shots were fired randomly to hit all parts of the car including the fuel tank. The vehicle was set on fire and totally burned, and Hamoud was hit by a bullet on the head before his body was completely burned, he said.
Supporters of Saher believe that the rule of law and respect of regulations are essential and basic matters, and accordingly, the system of Saher should be respected, as it does not differentiate between drivers. They add that traffic accidents that lead to death and severe injuries caused by high speed need to be handled seriously with an implementation of deterring force. The material and legal penalties imposed by Saher have started to bear fruit, as an increasing number of drivers have begun to respect the traffic lights. Defenders also express surprise that many Saudi drivers follow traffic regulations when driving in neighboring GCC countries like Bahrain and the UAE but do not do so when driving in their own country.
Abdulmonim Al-Jaber, a member of a Saudi Facebook activist team, said his youth team had dedicated itself to spread popular awareness on traffic safety and security. He said the group also detected vital mistakes being committed by Saudi youth including speeding and reckless driving, which he described as “a strange way of sport practice with uncountable negative consequences, including slaying of innocent people.” Al-Jaber said the ultimate target of his group was to initiate a communication link between security bodies and youth drivers, shedding light on the role of security bodies and underlining the relation between security and the community.
“We are all partners in establishing security; the responsibility does not just lie on security bodies alone,” Al-Jaber told Arab News, and added that everybody had the duty to contribute to the awareness campaign to deter offenders.
“What is going on is really painful and regrettable. So many young people die due to recklessness, speeding, irresponsible behavior and unawareness about the consequences,” he said. He described Saher as a positive and constructive system with a leading role in reducing deadly accidents. He also blamed the counterpropaganda about Saher as the main cause behind attacks on its personnel.
Faris Al-Abbadi, a resident of Riyadh, said the system of Saher had brought about positive results and gained the respect of all drivers who deplore outlawed practices. He also praised the high violation fees as a deterrent weapon that imposes respect of the system.
“At first, many guys rejected the rules and regulations and vigorously resisted them, but when Saher was introduced such opposition and resistance backed off,” Al-Abbadi said. He expressed confidence that Saher today grouped an increasing number of supporters on both official and popular levels regardless isolated accidents taking place due to counterpropaganda.
Those who oppose the system also cite some justifications and reasons for resistance. Many of them mainly complain that the heavy financial fees imposed by Saher cause an unnecessary financial burden on citizens, and their accumulation could hurt low-income people who are unable to pay.
However, the question is: if you cannot pay the penalty of you own violation, then why are you so defiant and break the law – run the red light, speed – that might cost the lives of other innocent people? Why shouldn’t you respect the regulations when you are unable to pay the accumulating fees?
Answering this question, Brig. Abdulrahman Al-Meqbil said the penalty should be firm and deterring. “By now, almost 94 percent of vehicle drivers respect the system of Saher, which protects them from the violations of the remaining six percent.” The traffic director of Riyadh and manager of Saher made it clear that the system does not bow for mediation or any kind of patronage, and it applies to all without exceptions.
On his part, Mofleh Al-Qahtani, chairman of the National Society of Human Rights (NSHR), had previously warned against the consequences of employing human elements for implementation of the system in view of the dangers that could threaten such employees, including murder and aggressive acts. He called for measures to protect the Saher employees by depending instead on automated devices to control the traffic. Al-Qahtani also called for severe and deterring punishment for those involved in attacks against the employees and properties of Saher.
The question now is if Saher will be able to proceed as planned or if it should be abolished. Commenting on such possibilities, Abdulhadi Al-Shammari said all significant and major projects were always faced with opposition at the beginning. There are those who oppose it, those who misunderstand it, and those who exploit public resentment to achieve personal ends. He expressed hope that the recent incidents would be enough reason for a national debate on the positive aspects of Saher and how to protect its personnel, particularly after the accident at Alquwayiyah, which led to a suspension of Saher moving vehicles for five days, during which employees submitted their demands to the company for finding lasting solutions. Their demands include a share in profits, providing enough protection, defaming attackers – particularly those who remove number plates and clearly violate traffic rules or attack Saher vehicles. The new resolutions are expected to come out by the end of this month.