Government unable to enforce traffic regulations:Until when will this last? [Archives:2003/658/Viewpoint]

August 11 2003

A few days ago, Yemen lost another Editor-in-Chief, namely, Abdulkarim Ajlan Editor-in-Chief of Wahaj Al-Haqiqah weekly, in a tragic and severe traffic accident while he was on his way from Taiz to Sanaa. The accident led to his instant death and was one of tens of others that happened on the same day.
This reminded me of the traffic incident that took away our beloved founder Prof. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, who died in a traffic incident in Sanaa in 1999.
Looking at the different articles published in Yemen Times in the past, one can easily notice that traffic accidents are on the rise, and their victims are everywhere. The paper's last edition no (657) had an article about shortage of morgues in the country due to the high and unexpected number of dead bodies of Yemenis killed on the roads.
Statistics clearly indicate that the main and first reason behind all of this is the weak enforcement of traffic regulations by the authorities, which in turn encourages drivers to drive at high speed. Traffic victims in Yemen in one year are astonishingly more than the number of those killed in the whole Iraqi war.
In a city like Sana'a, which is supposed to be the model for the rest of Yemeni cities, traffic laws are not enforced properly, leading to congestions at some points, and accidents at others.
One of the very common traffic violations is diagonal or double parking. This causes streets with four lanes to barely be enough for one or two. Sometimes, one faces great difficulty in driving through wide streets because most of the cars you see are parked along the street and sometimes close to the street center.
Unfortunately, traffic officers do very little to enforce traffic regulations because of widespread corruption. One can easily notice traffic policemen riding in a car after it crosses the red light. I remember once specific example that happened when one of my friends and I were on our way to work when my friend, who was driving the car, crossed the orange light, which turned red just as he started crossing.
We were then requested to stop by the traffic policeman at the crossroads. We were surprised to have two policemen opening the doors and jumping into the car.
“Take us to the traffic headquarters. You need to have your car put on hold!” one of them told the driver.
“I haven't crossed the red light at all. Even if you unjustly insist on that, you should just give me a ticket and let me go.” the driver responded.
“No way, you are coming with us to the traffic headquarters, please don't make me call our people to have your called pulled to the traffic headquarters.” the policemen said.
After a dispute which we felt we were losing, we just drove to one of the branch roads and were surprised to hear the policeman say, “Never mind. Just give us our “Qat” money and we will let it go this time.” My friend thought it was far better to give two corrupt policemen a few hundred rials rather than going to the traffic headquarters, where we will be forced to give bribes to far too many others to let the car go, if it is released at all. So he gave them one thousand rials each and they happily left.
This goes on all the way wherever and whenever you drive in the city. Traffic police are ineffective because they are mostly dishonest and look for bribes, usually from the poor drivers, as they don't even dare ask the driver of a fancy car why he broke the rules, or why his car has no numbered plate.
Apart from that, traffic accidents happen due to an enormous number of things. This is a paragraph that I copied and pasted from a US consular information sheet about traffic in Yemen:
“Yemen has no traffic laws governing turns on red lights, maintaining lanes, merging or right-of-way. Drivers commonly drive on the wrong side of the road. A large number of underage drivers are present on the roads. Many vehicles are in poor repair and frequently lack functional turn signals, headlights, taillights, and brake lights. Pedestrians, especially children, and animals on the roads constitute hazards in both rural and urban areas.”
If the Yemeni government cannot enforce traffic regulations, how on earth will it enforce other laws concerning disarmament, security, investments, corruption, etc.
I believe that enforcing the law in the county is our main problem, and traffic laws are no exception.
If things don't improve, let us brace for any news item about yet another journalist or prominent personality killed in another sad traffic incident.