Among the articles I have been writing on national problems that were never resolved in 2019 and thus wait to be tackled in 2020, is one I wrote last week broaching the traffic predicament on Egypt’s streets. This problem has persisted for decades on end, and now constitutes a chronic pain for Egyptians.
In my last article, I reviewed the chaos on Egyptian streets, brought on by the rampant runaway unruliness of drivers, coupled with the absence of rigorous monitoring and control by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the traffic authority as well as the police. I explained that the standard practice by traffic police to sporadically plant ambushes on the roads, which then pounce on traffic violators, does nothing to impose discipline, since drivers realise that they could mostly get way with violations; very infrequently do they get caught. Not surprisingly, this serves to exacerbate unruliness and chaos on the road.
Today, I highlight some of the most common driver infringements against the traffic law, infringements that have become so common that they are no longer seen by the majority of drivers as the flagrant violations that they are. The real calamity is that these infringements are frequently made under the eyes of traffic police officers who do almost nothing to stop them. Some well-informed members of the public even harbour serious doubts as to whether traffic police officers are themselves aware of traffic laws and codes, or capable of enforcing them.
Following is a list of some of the most notorious traffic violations on Egyptian streets; given that I cannot list them in full.
- Failure of drivers to fasten seat belts while driving.
- Extensive use of cellular phones by drivers who prefer to hold the devices in their hands rather than use hands-free devices.
- Parents who put their babies or little children on their laps while driving.
- Children poking their heads or bodies out of rooftop windows of moving cars.
- Young people poking their heads or bodies out of open windows of moving cars.
- Vehicles driving without licence or with licence plates with faded details.
- Driving in the wrong direction through U-turns. Curiously, doing this requires that the driver swerves the vehicle at a very sharp angle then defy all drivers facing him and driving in the right direction.
- Infringing on the right of pedestrians to cross the road when they get a green light. The problem is that, at an intersection where vehicles stop at a red light while a green light is given to those coming on the intersecting road, some of the vehicles moving in the same direction as the pedestrians decide to turn into the road given the red light. They do so without any regard of the pedestrians given the green light to cross, jeopardising their safety. Elderly persons and children are especially put at risk. No traffic policeman, however, does anything.
- Mass transport vehicles stopping on the ramps of bridges to collect or drop off passengers.
- Taxis stopping in the middle of the road to collect or drop off passengers.
- Drivers storming through streets clearly marked ‘No Entry’. What use is a signpost if drivers feel comfortable violating it, and run away unscathed? Let alone the disputes on right of way that ensue when violating vehicles are faced with others facing them and moving in the right direction. More often than not, there never is any traffic policeman at hand to stop the violator and hold him or her accountable.
- The rush of cars on ramps leading to bridges, all competing to access the bridge, completely oblivious to the fact that the traffic lanes leading up a bridge are less than those on the street leading to it, brings about unending crowding and conflict. The concept of vehicles properly converging to cross a bottleneck is so totally alien to drivers, that none is even aware of the problem; they behave as though the chaotic outcome is absolutely normal.
- Signposts that indicate ‘No parking’ on main roads and bridges are meant to indicate that these roads or bridges are fully allocated to flowing traffic. This requires a parallel mechanism by the traffic authority to directly tow away any parking vehicle. But it appears that smoothly flowing traffic is the least of the traffic authority’s concern, since parked vehicles are left there with a mere parking ticket stuck on their windshield. Worse, their wheels may get locked by a traffic squad, leaving the vehicle in place blocking traffic until the owner pays the required fine.
These are but examples of the pitiful state of the traffic on our streets, in view of the lack of any control or accountability. I am sure that if I send out a call to our readers to notify me of all forms of traffic infringements, we could fill pages of an entire issue of Watani. The gruesome situation is one that I fail to see any way out of.
6 February 2020