After almost 4 months of using cabs, I've decided it's time to brave the Kuwait roads all by myself. It's a momentous occasion...I'm getting my Kuwaiti driver's license! I requested it about 3 weeks ago, and finally got all my paperwork from HR. So, later this week I will go down to some building in another part of town, get a signature from someone on the 6th floor, then go to another location to get my eye test, then go back to the first building to pick up my actual license. I'm a bit skeptical about the process (I've been told it should take about an hour...so I'm planning on three)...so I will update you all when (if!) it actually all comes together. Then it will be time to go car shopping. Here in Kuwait, foreigners usually do not buy their own car; rather, it is recommended that we rent/lease. Why, you ask? Well, because Kuwait has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world. It's not "if" you get in an accident, it's "when." So as a foreigner, the easiest thing is to rent a car with full collision insurance...that way, every time you get in a wreck, you can just turn in your car and get a new one! The driving here is one of the main reasons I chose not to get a car when I first got here...but after a few too many creepy cabbie incidents, I decided I would rather take things into my own hands and not deal anymore with cab drivers AND have control of my own car. So in anticipation of being back behind the wheel after four months of no driver, I thought I would put together a little list of driving tips in Kuwait.
1. Although there appear to be lane markings on the roads, those are merely suggestions. The trick is to calculate the number of painted lanes, then multiply by 2.5 to actually gage the potential traffic flow of any given street.
2. Someone had the brilliant idea of creating traffic circles all over Kuwait. Unfortunately, they forgot to include driving lessons on how to use a roundabout. Therefore, people here have created their own little rules for roundabouts (sarcasm intended):
- When entering a roundabout, do not yield...simply jam down the accelerator and pray really hard that no other car is standing in your way.
- Never ever try to exit the roundabout from the outermost lane closest to the exit. Rather, stay on the inside of the circle until the last possible moment, then careen through traffic, passing as close as possible to the other cars, and zoom out of the circle while leaving a possible pile-up behind you.
- If you're not sure which exit to take, just brake and idle in the middle of the roundabout until you've decided. Don't pay any attention to the honks and rude hand gestures.
- Right of way always goes to the biggest car on the road.
- If you happen to take the wrong exit, just stop your car and reverse it back into the traffic circle, pause to decide on the correct exit, then pull back into the circle, making sure you just scrape by all the cars trying to exit in your lane.
3. There are multiple ways to get around a car that is going too slow in front of you. Option #1: move into the other lane. Option #2: create your own lane and pass in between two cars by driving right on the painted lane lines. Option #3: who said you can't drive on the sidewalk? Option #4: Get 4 inches behind their car, flash your high beams repeatedly, and honk loudly. If all else fails, just run them off the road.
4. If you are a female western driver, never ever look at the cars next to you. Glancing at the car appears to be an invitation for whatever man is driving to follow you miles out of his way in order to give you his phone number and invite you to go out with him.
5. If you plan to exit a freeway, never plan ahead. Instead, stay in the far left fast lane until the exit is immediately to your right. Then, make sure you're going at least 60mph and just veer straight through traffic and exit. If another car is exiting at the same time, perfect! It's an opportunity to play chicken and see who brakes first.
6. Driving while wearing a full hijab and nikab (headscarf and face covering) is too easy. You should also talk on your cell phone and try to keep control of your kids (who incidentally are not in car seats or even seatbelts...sometimes they're even running around in the SUV trunk and hanging out the windows and the sunroof!). It's brownie points if your face covering eradicates any possibility of peripheral vision.
7. And finally, if and when you do get into a wreck, make sure to blame it all on whichever poor non-Kuwaiti is around...even if he/she was not involved in the wreck.
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen...a few little driving tips for Kuwait. I'm sure I will have more to share with you after I've been driving a few days. Please remember that these little tips are not meant to disparage any country's driving traditions...they're just a few little helpful insights I've gained from 4 months in Kuwait.