By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent
Cars on bustling Cairo streets compete with pedestrians, donkey carts, buses and motorcycles as they make their way down the ever congested and polluted roadways. And thatâ€™s in addition to sharing the street with countless other vehicles. As a result of the chaos, Egypt is ranked as 2nd in the world for traffic fatalities. According to a World Health Organization report, there were an estimated 7,000 road fatalities in Egypt last year alone. The reasons for the deaths can be chalked up to several factors such as poor driving skills by motorists, a failing infrastructure with poor roadways and a general indifference by a population who is one of the poorest in the world.
Most drivers in Egypt do not even have to pass a driverâ€™s education course before they are licensed to hit the road. This is evident the moment you pull onto any street in Cairo. Driverâ€™s weave in and out of traffic and get off at exits without even turning on their blinkers. Since bus stops are few and far between, buses often stop in the middle of the roadway to dispense their passengers, who just might get hit by a speeding motorist the minute they get off the bus. The speed limit is too often ignored and even traffic stoplights serve as mere road ornaments as driver after driver blow through the red lights.
Taking a look inside a typical vehicle driven by an Egyptian citizen reveals a whole new world of hazards and violations. For one thing, most seatbelts are either missing or tucked down into the seat without even a thought to their purpose being taken into consideration. The occupants of the car are jostled about unrestrained, which includes children who often use the car as an excuse to jump around and play. A childrenâ€™s carseat in an Egyptian car is an unfortunate rarity. There are also countless distractions that cause the driver to keep his eyes off of the road, which includes hot beverages like tea, cell phones and the all too common cigarette balanced between fingers.
There are an estimated 4.4 million cars on Egyptian streets and the number is growing. The Egyptian government is fighting an uphill battle in combating the roadway mayhem. However, parliament has recently taken measures to punish those who break traffic safety laws and hopefully send a message to others that reckless driving is no longer acceptable. Last year a new traffic safety code was adopted in Egypt. Simple traffic transgressions, such as not yielding to pedestrians or driving in the opposite direction on a one-way street, are now punishable by jail time and a hefty fine.
The government has shrewdly turned to technology to maintain some level of road safety. Egyptian roads are now monitored by cameras, which are remotely manned by a control center that operates around the clock. A system of radars has also been established at congested intersections to catch traffic violators in the act. Policemen have also been equipped with portable digital devices to quickly issue citations. And the government plans to study traffic accident patterns to prevent future calamities.
The Ministry of Interior has also launched a media campaign to educate the public about the importance of road safety. This month the ministry plans to launch a monthly documentary about specific traffic accidents that resulted in one or more fatalities. The documentary will show viewers, up close and personal, the reason for the accident and how it could have been prevented. The ministry also plans to go a step further by interviewing family members of the deceased to see how traumatic their loss has been. The Egyptian government hopes that the programming will wake itsâ€™ populous out of their slumber to take road safety seriously.