Editor, PlanetArabia Magazine
The new traffic law which was issued in 2012 provides for extensive improvement with regulation at the highest level of government. The scope of its implementation however continues to be limited to imposing heavier fines on drivers and pedestrians, yet overlooking driver education, pedestrian needs and road safety requirements.
Fady Gebrane, President of Kunhadi- one of three civil society organizations in Lebanon promoting road safety- stated that “the new traffic law in Lebanon is a rewrite of the 1967 version, amended in 2012 with stricter fines applied starting 2015. The law as amended includes a chapter added on pedestrians, but it is a long way from being implemented.”
“The law provides for a National Traffic Safety Council chaired by Lebanon’s Prime Minister, with the membership of the Ministers of Interior, Justice, Education and Works, as well as representatives of a number of government departments,” Gebrane added.
Police Lieutenant Anwar Abbas explained that “awareness campaigns need to be organized in order to educate the various stakeholders in the public sector, private sector, civil society and the general public, to learn about the Law and the requirements to activate the law, and to train traffic police officers, drivers, pedestrians and the general public, including school and university students. More officers are also needed in order to ensure that the Law is implemented.”
Major General Ibrahim Basbous, Director General of the Internal Security Forces, confirms that “the new law is being applied evenly in all areas of Lebanon and awareness campaigns in the form of road blocks educate drivers of the heavy fines which are imposed on offenders.”
The situation on the ground however does not support the Director General’s claim. It is observed in areas such as Hamra Street, Southern Suburb (Dahieh), Bikaa Valley and Tripoli clearly show that the law is not being evenly applied. It is also observed in Dahieh that drivers continuously ignore red lights, while in Hamra Street motorcycles are driven on sidewalks.
Driving instructor Hussein Younes added “I continue to teach driving the same way as I did for the past twenty five years. Driving instructors did not receive any new instructions from the Ministry of Interior or from any other agency to change their methods or to provide additional materials to teach student drivers the new traffic requirements. Our students are still learning the same things as before, without anything new.”
Traffic police officers and drivers understanding of the new law is still limited. Police officers and taxi drivers interviewed agree that the main requirements as they understand them are to “put your seat belt, have a fire extinguisher and a triangle in the car, with the periodic car check up completed.
Police officers are still unaware of many requirements, or continue to overlook violations. Traffic police officers interviewed, also stated that they did not receive any formal training on how to implement the new law. They said that their instruction was limited to types of violations and fines to be applied.
The question which is asked is “is the law effective?” Will the new law produce results, ensure road safety and save lives? It is still premature to determine whether the law will be fully implemented in Lebanon in the short term, and it may take many years before we see tangible results.
Gebrane gives hope that the new law can produce results, and cites that “heavier fines alone resulted in reducing accidents by around 50% in the first two months after implementation, but as the enthusiasm died out in the third month onward, this percentage declined to 30%, and continues to decline.”
The Lebanese government must not rely on civil society organizations such as YASA, Kunhadi and Roads for Life to promote awareness and maintain road safety. In view of the severity of accidents we see today on Lebanon’s roads, the problem needs to be escalated and treated as a crisis with catastrophic effects. A crisis team must be formed at the highest level to address the problem. The new law provides for such a team to be headed by the Prime Minister. However, it seems that, similar to the efforts needed to persuade citizens to abide by the new law, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet need some persuasion as well in order to give this crisis the priority it deserves.