CAIRO: Do you leave Heliopolis at 2:30 p.m. to make a 3 p.m. appointment downtown, only to arrive 15 minutes late cursing the slow drivers and dilapidated cars that caused your delay?
If this sounds familiar, then you are a typical traffic offender. Most individuals who speed and violate traffic laws have poor time management skills, according to Road Safety Consultant Theo Holtzheuser.
Holtzheuser, a retired Canadian police officer of 25 years, was speaking at the Road Safety and Traffic Management Conference and Exhibition, which opened yesterday at the Cairo International Conference Center and continues today.
The event is in its second year, and the three “e s of road safety – education, enforcement and engineering – are the theme this year.
While public awareness campaigns go some way to improving the mindset of unsafe drivers, Holtzheuser believes that education is most effectively achieved through enforcement.
Drawing on his own experience and examples of the improved safety of New York over the past decade, Holtzheuser explains that when police enforce small infractions such as broken headlights, they encourage a caring attitude in society that consequently prevents more serious crimes.
The quantity of tickets issued is the traditional metric of traffic police. Rather than simply seeking to increase the number of violations that are caught, Holtzheuser says that police should aim to decrease violations to zero and analyze the details of the violations – such as the age and occupation of drivers – to devise more effective enforcement strategies.
Nevertheless, Holtzheuser concedes that police cannot force all drivers to comply with the law by issuing tickets. He cites a Canadian study which found that the effectiveness of enforcement lasts approximately 35 days; thereafter drivers usually revert to their former behavior.
Continuous strict enforcement therefore needs to be accompanied by education and awareness campaigns to send a positive and lasting message to drivers. Road safety is a shared responsibility, says Holtzheuser. Lawlessness is contagious … Compliance is contagious.
Dr. David Bishai, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies the economics of road safety, adds that improved traffic enforcement is amongst the least expensive methods of saving lives. In Uganda, for example, improved monitoring using supervision teams and equipment resulted in a reduction in road fatalities at the cost of $314 per life saved per year. This is inexpensive compared to the expenditure on many healthcare projects, yet Bishai says that most traffic enforcement programs are under funded despite their demonstrable effectiveness.
In Egypt, approximately 6,000 people die in road accidents annually. General Authority for Roads, Bridges and Land Transport Chairman Mohammed Foda explains that such accidents cost society approximately LE 4 billion or 2 percent of gross domestic product.
Three-quarters of road accidents in Egypt are the result of the behavior of drivers, and this mostly relates to speeding. Vehicle defects, primarily due to tire problems, cause another 20 percent of road accidents. The remaining 5 percent of accidents are caused by environmental conditions, such as poor visibility.
In relative terms, more than 16 people die annually in Egypt for every 10,000 registered vehicles, compared to an average of two to three deaths per year for every 10,000 registered vehicles in developed countries.
The higher rate of fatalities is common in the developing world, according to Sharief Gomaa, assistant to the Minister of Interior. Although developing countries possess only 20 percent of the vehicles in the world, they account for 88 percent of road accident casualties.
Automobile manufacturers were notably missing from the event. Holtzheuser says that car companies must bear some responsibility for educating the public, and that the glorification of speeding and irresponsible driving behavior in car advertisements and movies has contributed to misconduct on the road.
There are some 1.2 million traffic fatalities around the world every year. During the course of today, more than 3,000 people will die in road accidents. Many others may survive but will be disfigured, disabled or paralyzed. Road accidents now claim more casualties globally than armed conflict; something to consider when you rush to your next appointment.