Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1221, (13 - 19 November 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1221, (13 - 19 November 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Death on the road

Traffic accidents are seldom out of the headlines. In less than a month 59 people have been killed and more than 70 injured in just three road accidents. The official response has been to announce stricter measures. Will it work, asks Ahmed Morsy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On 6 November President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ordered the government to devise a national plan to improve road safety and institute special court circuits to hear cases involving traffic law violations. He also instructed the Specialised Council for Community Development to coordinate with all relevant state institutions to reduce the number of accidents. The council is expected to report back to the president within two weeks, says presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef.

Al-Sisi called for the strict application of traffic laws that include tougher penalties for violators. The cabinet immediately agreed to amend the traffic law, toughening penalties for wrong-way driving, driving under influence of drugs and alcohol and driving over the speed limit.

The recently published World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety noted that speed limits, seat-belt wearing and helmet wearing laws and restrictions on blood alcohol concentration for drivers are poorly enforced in Egypt.

The draft law has already been referred to the State Council. Chancellor Magdi Al-Agati, head of the State Council’s legislative department, confirmed on Sunday that he agreed to all the cabinet’s amendments. The draft law is now ready for ratification by President Al-Sisi.

“The ministry is working to reduce road accidents by the strict implementation of all traffic laws,” says Assistant Interior Minister Major-General Medhat Quraytam. The new traffic law, he adds, will reduce the number of accidents.

Under the changes anyone driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol faces a statutory one year prison sentence. The penalty increases to a minimum of two years and a LE10,000 fine if the driver causes an accident in which one or more people are injured. Should a fatality occur a minimum three-year jail sentence and the LE20,000 fine will be imposed.

Driving in the wrong direction is punishable by a six-month prison sentence, which increases to three years or more if injuries are caused. Exceeding the speed limit can result in a maximum of one-year in jail and a fine of LE3,000.

Hassan Mahdi, professor of roads engineering at Ain Shams University, estimates that the changes, if applied strictly, could cut road accidents in half.  He urges the employment of up-to-date technology in monitoring roads. “The government and the private sector could enter into a partnership to employ the latest equipment, under the supervision of the Interior Ministry,” says Mahdi. The high cost of the technology, he argues, would be covered by the levying of fines.

The WHO’s report on road safety between 2012 and 2013 found Egypt had one of the world’s highest rates of road accidents and related deaths, with an average of 12,000 people killed annually. The report slammed Egypt’s road system, — a fast-moving combination of trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians — as the third most dangerous in the world.

The latest deadly traffic crash occurred on the Alexandria agricultural road on 5 November. A school bus collided with a truck in Beheira governorate, then hit a private car and two other trucks leaving 18 – mostly students – dead and dozens injured.

Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat referred the drivers of the school bus and truck to criminal court on Monday. They face charges of manslaughter, causing injury and vandalism. The truck driver also faces charges of driving under the influence of drugs.

On 2 November 11 university students and a bus driver died in a traffic accident in Sohag when the private bus that was carrying them to the university’s new campus outside the city swerved off the highway to avoid an oncoming truck. In mid-October 30 people were killed and 15 injured in a road crash on the Aswan desert road.

 The new law obliges truck drivers to keep to the right lane on all roads, says Quraytam. Any driver contravening the stipulation faces a LE500 to LE1000 fine.

“Reducing the number of traffic accidents requires vigilance on the part of all state institutions involved in legislation and its implementation. The Interior Ministry especially needs to stamp out the culture of bribes passing between drivers and traffic policemen,” says Haitham Akef, professor of transport and roads at Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb has promised that no leniency will be shown to “undisciplined” truck drivers and has asked the cabinet’s legislative committee to draft “deterrent” legislation to limit road accidents.

A cabinet decree has already been issued restricting the time trucks can drive in urban areas hours from 11pm to 6am. The new regulations were due to be applied from 15 November. Yet within days of the decree being issued Major-General Mohamed Atta, undersecretary of the General Administration of Traffic said the decree would be implemented in phases.

“Limiting the driving hours of trucks will take longer than was initially declared,” says Atta. “Immediate implementation of the decree will have a negative impact on the economy. Trucks transport essential goods and limiting their ability to deliver will result in price increases.”

In 2008 laws were introduced banning articulated haulage trailers. Truck owners then negotiated a grace period until August 2014 to replace their vehicles. In 2009 parliament decided to decrease the period to two years. The decision was not enforced in the face of a national strike by truck drivers. In July this year Al-Sisi issued a decree extending the grace period for another year.

A 2012 report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) estimated that traffic accidents cost the Egyptian economy LE17 billion yearly.

Chairman of the General Authority for Roads and Bridges Saad Geioshi insists that dangerous driving is the cause of the vast majority of road accidents and that the state of the roads is seldom a contributing factor.  “Many truck drivers drive under the influence of drugs,” he claims. 

When, in response to the plethora of accidents, Al-Gharbiya’s General Traffic Department conducted spot tests on drivers using the Alexandria Agriculture Road, 50 per cent tested positive for drugs.

Yet in a phone interview with Dream channel last week Minister of Transport Hani Dahi said “deterioration of road network” in the last four years was partly to blame for the number of accidents. The state of Egypt’s roads, he said, has long been compromised by inappropriate use. He gave the example of trucks carrying up to 30 tonnes regularly using roads designed to handle a maximum of 13 tonnes.

“Egypt doesn’t have enough vehicles in its transport fleet which is why so many vehicles end up being overloaded,” says Mahdi. 

Half of Egypt’s 24,000 km of main roads are slated for maintenance.

“A scheme is underway to revamp the road network, complete maintenance work, build new roads and expand the capacity of existing roads,” says Dahi said.

On 22 July Al-Sisi launched a national project for roads. Thirty-nine roads with a total length of 4,400 km are involved in the scheme which has been budgeted at LE36 billion.  Some will be built from scratch, others upgraded. Contracts are being divided between the ministries of transport, housing and defence. The first phase of the project, allotted to the Transport Ministry, is for 13 roads to be finished in one year.

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