Future-proof road safety in Saudi Arabia

Muhammad Farhan, Ph.D., from the Saudi Aramco Chair for Traffic Safety Research.

There are currently 27 traffic fatalities a day in Saudi Arabia. About 70% of the victims are under the age of 30 – unfortunately, this tragic number keeps growing. Thus, it is high time that road safety in the region becomes a top priority in the academic field as well as in the public and private sector. The University of Dammam is the only University in Saudi Arabia that offers a Bachelor’s degree with a focus on traffic engineering. This course was introduced three years ago. At present more than 100 students are enrolled in the degree programme and the popularity of the field of study is growing fast. In November 2016, the PTV Traffic Safety Engineering and ITS Innovation Lab was opened at the Saudi-Aramco University of Dammam. At this state-of-the-art lab, students will be taught how to implement PTV software in the best possible manner. Muhammad Farhan from the Saudi Aramco Chair for Traffic Safety Research has been strongly involved in the project from day one. In this interview, he speaks about his experiences and his views on future traffic and road safety in Saudi Arabia.

Compass: What do you hope to achieve through this collaboration?

Muhammad Farhan: My main goal is to ensure that traffic in Saudi Arabia, especially in big cities, becomes safer. Currently, the road infrastructure is characterized by outdated ITS. When I’m teaching I compare the transport system in Dammam to a Nokia 3210 phone – something that was considered state-of-the-art several years ago. But you (or my students 😉 ) would not really be happy with it now. For instance, most of the traffic light settings in Dammam Metropolitan area are based on fixed times, at the moment. To overcome the frustration of unnecessarily long commuting times and ensure smooth traffic flow, 30 intersections in Dammam will be tested for vehicle actuated and/or adaptive signal controls. Through the PTV Traffic Safety Engineering and ITS Innovation Lab and the implemented PTV software, industry partners can be shown the cost value of the adaptation to improved ITS infrastructure.

Furthermore, there is a current lack of traffic engineers in Saudi Arabia. Through the lab at our university facilities we have taken active steps to address the latter issue and we’re positive that the shortage will be covered within a 5 to 10 year timeframe.  Students and professionals, e.g. from public agencies and ministries, will be able to benefit from the training courses at the lab enabling Saudi Arabian professionals to use the state of the art traffic software and tools available in the market. I’m convinced that the lab will lead to enormous benefits, contributing greatly to an improved traffic safety situation and a better quality of life for the Saudi Arabian population. Besides the advancement in ITS infrastructure and proficiency-building of professionals, it is a primary objective to decrease the number of traffic fatalities in the region.

Compass: Did you encounter any difficulties when introducing a new field of study and the lab?

Muhammad Farhan: At the moment classical civil engineering programs are well-established and popular in Saudi Arabia. However, traffic engineering is a new discipline, yet it is getting popular among students fast. The University of Dammam is working eagerly to raise awareness for the newly-established degree program. We’re definitely on the right track and it’s a pleasure to see how the students that started taking classes in transport and traffic engineering are amazed by what technologies lay behind traffic systems and how proud they are to follow an educational programme that’ll allow them to make the roads in their home country a safer place.

Compass: How was the overall reaction to the newly-introduced lab?

Muhammad Farhan: Generally, it was very well received by university officials, students as well as public and private sector partners. Dr. Abdullah Rubaish, President of the University of Dammam, and Dr. Abdul Hameed Al Moajel, Supervisor of Saudi Aramco Safety Chair, were strongly involved in making the project happen and supported the idea of further development of the lab. Training and technical studies are planned, not only for students but for authorities and public agencies as well. Therefore, it is not solely perceived as a student lab, but as an investment that allows us to give back to the community. I would even go as far as to say that the lab is not just a bunch of computers with software. It is way more than that – it’s a hub of PTV software training and other transportation research activities in Saudi Arabia.

Compass: Thank you very much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say about the cooperation?

Muhammad Farhan: You’re very welcome. And yes, indeed. It is crucial to me to point out that the metropolitan area of Dammam will benefit greatly regarding safety, thanks to PTV and its out-of-the-box solutions! I believe that together we’ll be able to rejuvenate the scientific research environment. The University of Dammam will work hand-in-hand with PTV to realize any innovative research ideas or out of the box practice ready transportation and ITS solutions they may have. I believe that we as partners in research, have a greater role to play in the coming years. There’s a void to fill in Scientific research and intellectual inquiry, and PTV can take this place – together with the University of Dammam.

The PTV Traffic Safety Engineering and ITS Innovation Lab at the Saudi-Aramco University of Dammam.