the source NOW Lebanon
The unnecessary political row that surrounded Interior Minister Ziad Baroud’s comments on Lebanon’s voting process has, quite rightly, subsided. By and large Baroud again acquitted himself as a competent administrator. However now it is time for the man who would like to convince us that he is young, dynamic and enlightened to address an altogether more serious issue: the reckless driving that is creating mayhem on our roads and highways, and which leaves hundreds people dead every year.
The summer season looms amid expectations that this will be another record year for the tourism and hospitality sector. Nightclubs and bars will be packed to capacity, alcohol will be consumed with little or no regulation, and more than a few partygoers will get behind the wheel having drunk enough to land them in jail in countries where public safety is a priority.
With only very basic traffic laws in place, Lebanon’s roads are a free-for-all at the best of times. In summer, when spirits are high, they become conveyor belts of death. What is outrageous, not to mention downright criminal, is that the government is doing nothing about it. Baroud, under whose jurisdiction law and order on our roads falls, has only made a token gesture to traffic safety, mostly by creating a photo opportunity at police checkpoints on New Year’s Eve, the only night of the year when the authorities appear to make an effort to curb drinking and driving.
Warnings of how the slaughter on our highways and byways will ultimately burden the state have been around for a while. As early as 2000, a UN report cited road traffic deaths as the one of the three main threats to Lebanon’s health system (the other two were HIV/AIDS and smoking-related diseases).
And all too often do we see death notices with pictures of heartbreakingly young men whose lives have been snuffed out in traffic accidents. Quite simply the state is letting them die.
As usual, it is civil society that is doing the most to reverse this tragic trend. YASA and Kunhadi are the two organizations that are trying to create awareness on the dangers of drunken and reckless driving, the importance of wearing a seatbelt, and that getting behind the wheel of a car is a responsibility, not a test of manhood.
We must also consider that the fiscal cost – if that is what it takes to convince the state to act – will also be high if Baroud does not act soon. The tourism industry will undoubtedly suffer if Lebanon develops a reputation as a holiday destination where there is no law and order on the roads.
Baroud has a Herculean task ahead of him. First of all he has to rehabilitate the reputation and authority of his employees. Who would be a traffic policeman in today’s Lebanon, where there is little respect for the uniform they wear. They are frequently ignored and in some cases abused by people who think that one well-placed phone call can solve any awkwardness. This is the situation we have allowed to happen. The state is decaying, and people are dying as a result.