Finally, teeth

The new traffic law cannot be allowed to go the way of the smoking ban

Navigating Lebanon’s streets during the height of rush hour traffic is certainly simpler than cutting through uncharted jungle territory, yet the dangers are just as great. Drivers not observing road safety rules, because the police look the other way, have turned the roads of this country into backwater territory where anything goes. It is chaos, and the risk of vehicular fatality runs greater than that of being eaten by a large, predatory jungle feline.

What is happening on this country’s roads amounts to a public health crisis. In 2014, road accidents claimed the lives of 657 people, according to figures from the Internal Security Forces. This is an unacceptably high figure. The death of actor Issam Breidy last month was another tragic reminder of the ongoing debacle of Lebanese motor safety.

The solution seems quite obvious: punish offenders. To this end, implementation of the new road safety law is to be applauded — and actively supported. Whether a driver has received thorough instruction or opted to subvert the formality of the licensing process, developing good driving habits — and discouraging the bad — is the most effective way to minimize vehicle accidents that damage property, or worse, cause injury or death. Drinking and driving, speeding, not wearing a seatbelt and texting while driving are among the worst habits of Lebanese drivers, and celebrating a victim’s life while ignoring the cause of their death is irresponsible to the public. As if accident victims’ families needed a reminder, a hefty fine for violating a rule of the road pales in comparison to the ultimate price one could pay.

Doling out tickets when rules are violated is now, and must remain, essential because penalties serve as a deterrent and as an effective teaching tool towards respecting the law, but secondary incentives should also be established. Settling an unpaid parking ticket is a prerequisite for passing the biennial motor vehicle inspection and the same should be so for moving vehicle violations. Drivers’ records should automatically be tallied in an electronic system that notifies insurance companies to adjust policy prices that reward good driving records and penalize bad ones.

The government’s implementation of road safety rules is a positive measure, though more support to municipal police forces will be needed to bolster enforcement. The newly introduced law must not be allowed to go the way of the ban on smoking, another big risk to public health. Institutionalizing enforcement must be the next step. The alternative is preparing for more funerals for those senselessly killed on our roads.

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