We have all lost somebody to the roads. It feels like I’m at a road-related funeral every fortnight.
A conservative World Health Organisation estimate of road fatalities in Egypt puts the annual death toll at 15,000 people. That means that 225,000 (approaching half a million) have lost their lives since the year 2000. Not to mention the 155,000 (per annum) that are critically injured and permanently disfigured. Let’s put the deaths into perspective – since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, 500,000 people have lost their lives. Cairo’s roads have claimed 50% of what a brutal war has.
The World Health Organisation also estimates that Egypt is home to the highest rate of ‘concentrated’ road accidents – Cairo has 48.1 deaths per 100,000 people.
The dead are just numbers, abstract statistics; Facebook posts that you empathise with, until it hits a little bit closer to home. They are roadkill – animals slaughtered by cars on the side of the road.
Are you disgusted yet? Heartbroken? Angry? Who do you blame? Do you blame Egypt’s Road Authorities? For sure; they, poor infrastructure, and appalling road safety standards are partly to blame.
But you and I are to blame, too.
In fact, if we were living in civilized countries most of us (and rightly so) would be in jail. Now, before you accuse me of hypocrisy, I have to put my hands up and tell you that I’m as guilty as the next jackass. Unfortunately, there are no statistics available for what proportion of these accidents are caused by DUI, but in the U.S. – where, to an extent, they enforce the rules of the road – it’s about 12%.
Anybody who has driven home after having one too many drinks after a night out is in the wrong; anybody who has seen a drunk friend get into a car and not stopped them is negligent; and anybody who thinks ‘job el taree2’ is a perfectly legitimate way to navigate the concrete jungle eight-lane free-for-all that is the Ring Road at night has no right to complain about fatalities.
We are being irresponsible and we know it. We are disrespecting the death and tragedy that almost every family has gone through for convenience, because, let’s face it, in the age of Uber and designated drivers, it wouldn’t be that difficult to find an alternative to getting behind the wheel. When, not if, people die at our hands, we will be accountable. Driving under the influence is so normalised, so commonplace, that most of us barely consider the implications and potential consequences. I mean, we all know that it’s bad, but this is Egypt and you’re a good driver and, anyway, everybody does it all the time… what could go wrong? Ignorance is bliss.
The effects of your Blood-Alcohol Level on motor-skills and reaction times are well-known and documented, but what about those of us who kid ourselves that hash doesn’t impact our driving? It literally takes a quick-as-a-crash Google search to tell you that yes, surprisingly, THC slows down your ability to respond to emergency situations, which, in Egypt, is every other situation.
If we were living in a vacuum, maybe driving under the influence wouldn’t be such a goddamn disaster, but we are not. We are adding to a myriad of very serious issues with the roads in Cairo. People drive like morons with the confidence of Formula 1 racers, the roads are poorly lit , if lit at all, most could do with a bit of paving, and plenty of cars should really be relegated to the scrapheaps of Morour el Maadi. We contribute to the state of affairs.
It is pure arrogance and selfishness that allows us, educated people who really do know better, to even consider getting behind the wheel when we should have our keys confiscated and our licenses revoked.
We shouldn’t be grieving the loss of loved ones and complaining about the streets. Most of us should be in jail.
By Noor Salama