Opinion

Egyptian Roads: A Trip Through Hell

Egyptian Roads: A Trip Through Hell

The first thing a visitor to Egypt will learn is its national anthem: car horns. Egyptian traffic is notorious for it. They use car horns to say “Hello”, to warn “Watch out I am merging into your lane whether you like it or not,” and to shout “Why are you stopped at a traffic light!”‘ Speaking of traffic lights, Egypt only has a handful – yes the country that invented the precision-engineered Pyramids has not yet adopted traffic lights.

The impact of the chaos on Egyptian roads leads to more than 10,000 traffic-related deaths per year. Accidents range from civilians being crushed by lorries while crossing the street, to train colliding into vehicles – such as Assiut’s school bus disaster which killed 51 children.

Images like this have become very common on Egyptian streets.
Images like this have become very common on Egyptian streets.

Chaotic conditions on Egypt’s streets are not solely due to the lack of proper infrastructure, but are the direct result of a lack of order. Following the revolution, this lack of order has significantly increased – with fewer ‘traffic cops’ around and virtually no inspection of non-roadworthy vehicles. The disappearance of inspection – even though the law exists – has resulted in extremely dangerous situations: working tail lights and fully functional side-mirrors have become ‘optional’; motor-bike riders now wear the helmet as a ‘fashion statement’; seat-belts are simply in the car for decoration and are not meant to be worn; and speed limits and signs have become simply a recommendation of  ‘minimum speed’.

Lack of inspection: this 'school' micro-bus was packed with as many children as possible.
Lack of inspection: this ‘school’ micro-bus was packed with as many children as possible. No seat belts, no side mirrors, no safety features.

The lack of inspection and traffic police has also led to excruciatingly long traffic jams that are often caused by pure stupidity such as “Let’s double park on this extremely narrow street!” and “Psh. Double parking? Ever tried tripled parking?!” and “Hmm, if I want to exit right, I should stay on the left and then merge three lanes to the right just before the exit.” The list of ‘stupidity’ which is unhindered due to the lack of proper order can go on forever.

Moreover, in Egypt a two-lane road is not actually a two-lane road. A two-lane road is transformed into a four or five lane road by drivers. No one drives in between the white markings (if they exist). This means that all cars are frighteningly close to one another which leads to plenty of bumps and scratches (and broken side-mirrors).

This is not a one way street. This is a two way street....
This is not a one way street. This is a two way street….
If there's a car in Egypt without a major scratch or bump, then it is either a) still in the showroom, or b) you are being lied to as such a car cannot exist in Egypt.
If there’s a car in Egypt without a major scratch or bump, then it is either a) still in the showroom, or b) you are being lied to as such a car cannot exist in Egypt.

According to various Egyptian drivers that I have interviewed, the lack of maintenance on Egypt’s roads has also increased in the past two years. The October 6th Bridge – one of Cairo’s traffic “lifelines” connecting various suburbs together – is today in bad shape with many bumps and holes on the bridge (which also contributes to traffic accidents and car-breakdowns). “In the past, if there was a car broken down on the bridge, it would be removed in less than 15 minutes by the authorities. Today, that car may remain there for 4 or 5 hours,” said one taxi driver. On a bridge with only two or three lanes, one broken down car leads to serious congestion.

Lack of proper sewage makes driving after it has rained (very little rain) a horrible endeavor. Bridges, tunnels, and simple roads remain flooded for days.
Lack of proper sewage makes driving after it has rained (very little rain) a horrible endeavor. Bridges, tunnels, and simple roads remain flooded for days.

What is the solution? Not only does the government need to ramp up its efforts on improving Egypt’s roads (through regular maintenance, the return of inspection and implementation of road-related fines), but there needs to be a change in mentality. If an Egyptian feels that is fine to pack a small micro-bus with 20 children as if they were packing a lunch box, then that Egyptian is risking the destruction of  20 families. If an Egyptian feels it is fine to drive without a side-mirror or tail-lights – thus endangering himself and other drivers – then that Egyptian is careless, selfish, and disrespectful.

After the implementation of proper government action towards Egyptian roads, there needs to be campaigns that specifically target the mentality of millions of Egyptians towards traffic rules and laws. If this is done, then maybe 10,000 Egyptian lives do not have to be lost each year.
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