The hazards of Egypt’s roads
Cairo - Taxi driver Yasser Mohamed was shocked when he learnt that many of his fellow drivers take drugs every day before getting behind the steering wheel.
“They think narcotics will help them work longer hours, not knowing that by doing so they are opening the door for their death and the deaths of their passengers,” Mohamed said.
Topping the list of drugs used by drivers, according to Mohamed, are heroin and marijuana. He said the largely available drugs are mistakenly believed to improve the mood of the drivers and help them get over the difficulties of driving on Egypt’s crowded roads.
Drug use, however, is blamed for most of Egypt’s growing number of road accidents, which, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cost 12,000 lives in 2013.
WHO said Egypt has a road fatality rate of 42 deaths per 100,000 people, adding that 48% of those killed are passengers. Pedestrians account for 20% of the fatalities. The remaining are drivers.
Traffic engineering professor Mostafa Sabry has called for tighter medical tests by authorities to make sure drivers do not mix driving with narcotics.
“Drug addiction by the drivers and their failure to abide by speed limits cause a lot of accidents on the roads,” Sabry said.
WHO’s Global Status Report on Road Safety says that, although Egypt has laws that limit motorists’ speed, ban motorists from taking narcotics or drinking alcohol, make it necessary for motorists and passengers to fasten seat belts and force motorcycle drivers to wear helmets, the country’s traffic laws are poorly enforced.
On June 22nd, Egypt’s newspapers and news sites reported eight fatalities and six injuries from road collisions. On the same day, the governor of the coastal city of Alexandria was snapped on camera offering first aid to a road accident victim before medical responders arrived.
On June 21st, a prosecutor, a university professor and a policeman were killed in separate traffic accidents in which five other people were injured.
Retired Traffic Department officer Youssri al-Rubi explained that drug tests were carried out by analysing samples of drivers’ saliva to ensure that they are not on drugs.
“Samples of the drivers’ saliva are being increasingly taken now on the roads for checks,” Rubi said. “Such a campaign needs, however, to be intensified everywhere in this country to keep drug addicts away from driving.”
Road accidents are becoming a prime cause of death in Egypt, along with cancer and heart disease. According to a 2014 report by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Transportation, 100,000 road crashes occurred in Egypt from 2008 through 2012, killing 33,000 people and injuring 150,000 others, in addition to the destruction of 125,000 vehicles.
Human errors were blamed in a report by the Interior Ministry’s Highway Research Department in the same month for 76% of the accidents. The remaining accidents were attributed to infrastructure issues, which include poorly maintained roads, the lack of proper road lighting and badly designed roads, according to the report.
Mohamed, the taxi driver, said he recently had to drive from Cairo to the central province of Minya in darkness.
“I had to totally depend on the car lights to navigate through the darkness of the road,” Mohamed said. “The problem is that most of the cars on the road did not have proper lighting, which increased the risk of collisions.”
A short time later, Mohamed drove from Cairo to Ain Sokhna — about 120 kilometres. He said he did not see a single traffic official or a radar speed sign.
Sabry, underlined that most road design mistakes occur during implementation.
“Those who build the roads do not abide by safety standards that are included in the original designs,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is that mistakes committed in this regard lead to catastrophic results.”
Design mistakes are committed in the implementation of intersections, road layouts and curves, with some road bends being too sharp for motorists to deal with.
Sabry called for identifying what he called “black spots” — places on a road where most of the accidents occur — and introducing suitable solutions or modifications to reduce the risk of accidents.
“This process can save lives if carried out along with measures by the authorities to prevent drivers on drugs from driving,” he said.
It is estimated that the road safety crisis costs Egypt $7 billion, the equivalent of 3.2% of gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.
A 2014 World Bank report said although Egypt needs to spend $700 million every year to maintain its roads, only $70 million is allocated.