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06/07/2013

Driving mad: The world's most dangerous roads

Afraid of flying? Terrorist attacks? The thief lurking under your bed? Well, you should actually be afraid of driving. Especially if you live in, say, the Dominican Republic.

The World Health Organization has a released report on the world's most dangerous roads, taking into account the number of motor vehicle-related deaths per 100,000 people. Top of the list is Dominican Republic, followed by Thailand, Venezuela and Iran. Safest? Iceland.

Max Fisher, a Foreign Affairs blogger at the Washington Post, notes that there is no single thread that joining the most dangerous countries, but medical care "both in terms of its quality and the physical nearness of hospitals seems to play a major role." 

Ask any foreign correspondent to share their scariest moments and a driving story is bound to be among the top five. Kenya's roads frighten me. Photographer Lucas Oleniuk says he has never felt closer to death (keep in mind he has been shot at in Bahrain and Haiti, among other locales) than when we tracked a shipment of khat, a popular leafy stimulant, from the trees in Maua, Kenya, to a parking lot north of Toronto last year.

 

You'll see the insanity of khat "drivers" at the end of his video here:

 

My colleague Hamida Ghafour, who was a recent resident in the United Arab Emirates, was dismayed the UAE didn't make the WHO's top 10 list. She writes:

Could the United Arab Emirates’ infamous Sheikh Zayed, which links Dubai and Abu Dhabi, really not be the worst highway in the world? I spent nearly two years commuting on that six-lane highway, trying to share the road with the Maseratis, Rolls Royces, and Lamborghinis favoured by Emiratis. (For the record I was in a modest Volvo.) 

Swapping horror stories about surviving the Sheikh Zayed was a dinner party perennial, kind of like moaning about property prices in Toronto. My favourite was a near miss with a South Asian driver who was driving erratically in the lane next to me one late Thursday afternoon as I headed home to Dubai.  I thought he was drunk until I looked closer – he was holding the Qur'an in one hand and reading it, while holding the steering wheel with the other.

The Sheikh Zayed also represents the tragic equalities in that society. The camps where the poor South Asian labourers who work mostly on construction sites lived were situated in the desert, cut off from population centres. If they missed the last bus home the only way back was crossing the Sheikh Zayed, which is like trying to dart across the 401. The worst hazard was anxiously watching for day labourers on that highway. On two occasions I saw the bodies of two men lying on the hard shoulder, covered with white sheets.

Somalia didn't participate in the WHO survey and driving conditions are likely pretty low on the country's To Do list. Here's a glimpse of what driving Mogadishu is like. (Videographer Randy Risling just let the GoPro on our car roll in 2011 and cut this oddly mesmerizing video):

 

Here's another fun video in case you wondered what Yemen's "streets" look like in the rainy season? Maybe not dangerous, but a rather damp experience. Star photojournalist (full disclosure: and husband) Jim Rankin cut this from our rather rainy reporting trip last year:

 

With apologies to Max Fisher for ending this blog the same way he ended his, here's the driving video everyone has been talking about since it was uploaded on YouTube May 31. It's reportedly from Makkah Road in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and features a very interesting Ford Crown Victoria hood ornament:

 

 


Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm

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This article caught my eye; about two years ago, I was in Egypt, and blown away by the wild driving, especially in Cairo. One fellow I met, a pilot, to whom I mentioned my fear of flying, repeated the title of this article: it's the driving you should be afraid of! In Egypt, he certainly was.

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