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July 4, 2019

Hard fact

Barricade along the hard shoulder on the airport road raises the question: Where to park in case of a genuine emergency?

Those who try to evade the airport parking fees and instead use the hard shoulder along the road leading to Muscat International Airport to wait for flights have been stumped – literally.

Authorities have barricaded the hard shoulder which leads to the airport’s arrivals and departures lanes in a bid to discourage this practice which has been in vogue since the new airport opened. However, this move raises an important question: Where should one stop on this stretch in case of an emergency like a burst tyre, an accident or a medical issue?

Any such scenario will leave a motorist no option but to stop midway in the main traffic lanes, posing an even graver danger to other road users. Since the recent installing of barricades, many have raised concerns over what should they do in an emergency. Driving all the way to the terminal seems to be the other, if not entirely practical, option.

Ironically, those against whom this step has been intended – truant motorists – have found other, more dangerous ways to park along the road. Some still park on the hard shoulder before the barricade begins, others park on the hard shoulder on the left, some use empty spaces closer to the terminal before the parking lots begin and others employ tricks like driving into the airport and out several times, to tackle the permitted 10-minute waiting time.

Hamed al Esri, Head, Corporate Road Safety, PDO, has raised some queries as to what would happen during emergencies when vehicles break down on the road or have technical snags. He also wondered what would happen if a driver or passenger suffers a medical emergency and where would rescue or evacuation vehicles park when teams are sent to accident sites on the airport road?

Esri has suggested some practical solutions to tackle the problem, like reducing the parking fees, using the ground floor parking as a free ‘lay by’ area for a limited time, and creating a parking area before the last traffic junction leading to the terminal building.

“It is worthwhile to study the issue well before going for any solution that might not provide a sustainable long term solution, he observed.”

Ali al Barwani, former CEO of the Oman Road Safety Association (OSRA) also asserted that the move of setting up barricades was to prevent motorists from parking on the hard shoulder, but agreed that it would inconvenience those having genuine emergencies.

Those who can drive up to the airport to handle emergencies should do so but, in case of a dire situation, one should be able to drive over the flexible plastic posts to get into the hard shoulder in order to avoid greater harm on the lane with oncoming traffic, he said.

Ian White, former UK Police Class One Advanced Driving Instructor and Advanced Driving Consultant to the Occupational Training Institute, offered advice on how and when to correctly use hard shoulders in Oman.

He explained, “The hard shoulder is an emergency lane that runs along the right hand side of expressways and many other roads in Oman. It is designed to allow drivers to get out of the flow of traffic to a place of safety in certain circumstances. It is separated from the main carriageway by a sold yellow line and is not intended for use by through traffic. In short, use of the shoulder is solely as a last resort in the case of a breakdown or emergency. Other uses are illegal unless a driver is instructed to go on to the shoulder by an ROP officer.”

White added, “Firstly, if your car has a mechanical/electrical fault, such as running out of fuel or an exhaust becoming loose and dragging on the road surface, then it would be perfectly lawful to use the shoulder. Secondly, you can use the shoulder in an emergency which would cover such eventualities as a shattered windscreen or tyre blowout. However, if you can keep going safely to the next exit, then you should do so.

“For example, if you get an alert from your car’s tyre pressure monitoring system, it’s better to continue at a reduced speed to a place of safety rather than risk your life by stopping on the shoulder.”

There are no other acceptable/legal uses; but unfortunately every day on Oman’s roads it’s clear to see that far more vehicles are on the shoulder than have broken down or suffered an emergency, White pointed out, adding that in Europe, it’s rare to see a vehicle on the shoulder, even during a long motorway journey and that the police treat any vehicle on the shoulder as a very serious situation.

In Oman however, shoulders appear to be used for situations way beyond breakdowns and emergencies. Taking a break, checking mobile phones, getting something from the boot, reading a map, taking a short cut past traffic, dropping off/picking up someone cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be classed as a breakdown or an emergency, he said.

“Such use is illegal and renders the driver at risk of spending two days in jail as in a 2016 tweet the ROP clearly and unambiguously warned motorists that ‘drivers found using road shoulders will be detained for 48 hours and then referred to the Public Prosecution for further legal action’.”

White drew attention that the same tweet that also mentioned that the ‘shoulder often serves as an emergency stopping lane, and is a reserved lane for emergency services like ambulances etc’.

This is a good point as the shoulder should be considered as a ‘lifeline’ for the emergency services to get to the scene of an accident in heavy traffic or when the road is blocked.

What to do in an emergency

he hard shoulder is the most dangerous section of any road. It can also be very frightening with large vehicles whizzing past. But most people in Oman don’t seem to fully understand the risks involved in stopping on it. Without doubt, it’s the most dangerous place, with most deaths on the shoulder occurring within 30 minutes of the driver pulling over. It’s not a place to ‘hang about’.

“If your car suffers a sudden breakdown or emergency, try and stay calm, check your mirrors and look over your right shoulder (blind spot check), indicate right and pull over gradually to the shoulder. Park as far to the right as you can and, if there is no barrier, get as far away from the road as possible,” says Ian White.

“If you can only stop on the shoulder due to a barrier immediately next to it, then pull over as close to the barrier as you can with your wheels angled to the right, immediately followed by putting on the hazard lights.”

Everyone should get out of the car from the right hand side passenger doors (this includes the driver) and stand on the verge behind the barrier as far away from passing traffic as possible. This is very important, as a UK report from some years ago highlighted the danger of remaining in the car by revealing that drivers who stay in their cars on shoulders are seven times more likely to be killed than those who get out to a place of safety, he said.

Then use your mobile phone to call for help and await a breakdown service (always have the number of a breakdown service on your phone). Do not attempt any repairs, including changing a wheel. It’s far too dangerous, as is attempting to put out a warning triangle, which will inevitably fall over anyway due to substantial draughts from passing traffic on dual carriageways. When the breakdown truck arrives, do not stand between your car and the breakdown truck or police vehicle if one is present, as one of them could be hit by passing traffic. Remain behind the barrier at all times until ready to leave. If the breakdown truck repairs your vehicle, driver and passengers should get back in the car through the right passenger doors and immediately put seat belts on.

On a final note, think of the yellow line as a ‘brick wall’ and you won’t go far wrong; only crossing it to move onto the shoulder in the case of a genuine breakdown or an emergency as a

last resort.

Fines and solutions

Parking on the hard shoulder on the right side is illegal, and drivers doing so without a convincing explanation of the emergency are liable for prosecution and a RO35 fine along with one black point. “In case of a genuine emergency, however, if one can pull over just before the barricade starts, then do so. But if you are traveling along the posted-off section, then try and keep going if it is safe to do so, until you can safely pull-off where it is safe/possible,” says Ian White.

In any case, stopping on the left hand side of the carriageway is not recommended as it is, by far, the most dangerous part of the carriageway. On a recent visit to the airport it was noticeable that more and more drivers have now starting to use the left hand side to wait for flight arrivals. White suggested a ‘safety compromise’ – a ‘double or triple safety gap’ along the barricade every few hundred metres, sufficient for drivers to pull into during a genuine emergency, with signs that warn of penalties for misuse.