As Egypt marks eight years on the massive Revolution of 30 June 2013 which overthrew the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood regime and brought on a secular civic State, there has been much public discussion of the achievements concluded during those years. In this regard, I last week reviewed the education reform attained in Egypt in those eight years, presenting both its successes and failures. Today I review the issue of road traffic in Egypt, a notorious concern which I have repeatedly discussed. I own that the roads, a key element in any traffic situation, have greatly improved since 2013; especially the road network inside Cairo and that leading in and out of it. An unprecedented achievement has been the building of state-of-the-art regional networks of roads, bridges, overpasses, and tunnels that have worked to attain smooth traffic flow which commuters greatly appreciate following decades of bottlenecks and traffic jams. That is apart from the significant economic benefits offered by these networks to industry, trade, transport and investment.
But roads are not everything; equally important are safety and security on the road. These are governed by traffic laws, and surveillance and monitoring of driver behaviour, especially given that the road upgrade in width, length and specifications tempts drivers to speed. If no speed limit is imposed, the blessing could turn into a curse of lost lives and failed road safety.
For decades on end, my generation of Egyptians looked with awe and admiration at the disciplined traffic in western countries. Today, the generation of our children who work in the Arab Gulf region: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE and others, express the same admiration regarding the orderly traffic in these countries. This even evokes a little bitterness among us Egyptians who have behind us a civilisation far older than that of any of these countries, yet have been unable to match their road discipline, safety, security, and law enforcement. It is not hard to grasp the reason: these countries have higher qualifying standards for drivers; roads well equipped with lines and traffic signs; and strict monitoring and law enforcement for everyone on the road.
We can safely say that in Egypt the achievement on the road network is gigantic, but equally gigantic is the failure in adequately qualifying drivers, monitoring their behaviour on the road, and enforcing the law. No matter how strict the law, it is toothless without vigilant mechanisms capable of immediate intervention to deal with violations. Only through empowering the law can it have an upper hand in disciplining drivers, since they would then be sure that they cannot get away with traffic violations.
I here cite a few examples of the failures in our road traffic system.
Most roads in Egypt lack traffic lines that define the lanes. Even where these lines exist, most drivers are not aware of the difference between a broken line and a solid one that forbids changing lanes. It is imperative that drivers comprehend and respect the lines especially when coming from a side road into a main road, crossing an intersection, or mounting a flyover where vehicles coming from a four lane street would jostle into the two-lane flyover, creating a stifling bottle neck. These violations occur daily in Egypt in broad daylight, owing to the ignorance of drivers, and the lack of monitoring.
Another failure concerns speed limits on separate lanes. Our highways brim with traffic signs indicating the speed limits for different types of vehicles, and each of the lanes from left to right is marked with the speed allowed on it, which is usually slower on the right of the road. This ensures that the speedier, lighter vehicles remain on the left while the slower, heavier vehicles keep to the right. What the signs and marks depict is in fact what the traffic law stipulates, but a huge gap exists between that and driver behaviour, given the deficient monitoring and law enforcement.
Safety violations seem too long to list. Worse among them is the common disrespect of traffic lights, which seriously jeopardises the lives of pedestrians. Even worse are types of irresponsible, ridiculous, treacherous behaviour that throws to the wind the safety of children, such as seating toddlers in the laps of drivers, or allowing children to dangle out of the vehicle’s window or sunroof. Such actions must be criminalised.
Finally, I cannot overlook a practice which appears to be characteristic to Egyptian roads, that is the immunity granted to cars of State officials or politicians. These cars barge into our roads, surrounded by a fleet of security vehicles and motorbikes squawking to make way. This offers Egyptians the worst model of persons above the law. No wonder that the law is denigrated and sidelined.
These are only part of the predicament of our road traffic, the remarkable achievements attained, and the glaring failures that persist.
16 July 2021