Three weeks ago, in an editorial entitled ‘Our children pay the price’, I warned that unsound planning of satellite towns places the lives of our children in jeopardy. I argued that, contrary to basic principles in urban planning which dictate that elementary schools in satellite towns should be built within the commercial and service centres of neighbourhoods, these schools are built by the main roads and highways. I had planned to resume tackling the issue of the traffic chaos on the highways, but had to interrupt the file to comment on President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world from Cairo.
The scores of horrific accidents on our main roads—the ring road around Cairo in particular—are becoming increasingly alarming. The sight of wreckage following accidents is now all too common because of rampant speeding and rash driving. As though the collision of two vehicles were not enough, more often than not other cars rush one after the other to augment the collision.
The ring road is rightly called “death road”. Gross negligence on the part of drivers coupled with lack of control on the part of traffic authorities lead to disastrous consequences. Even when one complies with the rules of driving, it is not enough to guarantee one’s safety in light of the chaos created by partners on the road. As for the traffic officers and policemen assigned to monitor highways and main roads, they rarely take the trouble to leave their checkpoints.
We are all responsible for this situation because we are all the product of the unhealthy climate that governs the licensing of drivers and vehicles. I have handled these issues in detail in pervious articles. Truck drivers move freely with no respect for speed limits, content that nobody can dare challenge them. Patrols entitled to stop them are non-existent. Bus drivers follow suit. It is as though none of them ever knew anything about safety or traffic rules, or that buses and trucks ought to stick to the right lanes. But even if they are aware of the rules, why should they abide by them while they know nobody would hold them responsible for their mistakes. When it comes to motorcycle drivers, the majority drive in a blend of carelessness, arrogance and rashness. They engage in crazy races, throwing to the wind all rules and ethics. Overly proud of their driving ‘skills’, they show no concern for the safety of pedestrians or other drivers.
There appears no end in sight for such chaos. Horrific road accidents and lives lost are consistently attributed to speeding. After the driver responsible for the accident is arrested—if he survives the accident—the file is closed. Nobody discusses the notoriously inefficient measures of monitoring the roads or enforcing traffic and safety laws. Traffic men are content with moving to the scene of the accident, bringing traffic back to normal, and moving the injured to hospital. They neither feel ashamed of their failure to prevent the accident nor do they shoulder any responsibility for it.
I wonder if security and traffic officials are aware of the situation on main roads and highways. Do they meet the same dangers that we do? Do they fear careless drivers as we do? If the answer is yes, why do not they do anything about it? If the answer is no, why do they remain in office?
The chaos on the highways and main roads, added to the unsound planning of satellite towns, implies that we are collectively mindless. Sending our children every day to schools that overlook main roads in satellite towns is highly hazardous; it is a potential time bomb that could blow any moment. Any of us may one day lose a dear child to it. Is it not about time to awaken and place highways and main roads under strict control?