Friday, December 4, 2009

Driving in Ethiopia…What, a surprise?

Although Ethiopia has a high mortality rate due to car accidents, there seem to be no documents that actually say ‘Ethiopia has the highest mortality rate in the world.’ Even the United Nations World Health Organization that is said to be the author of the document doesn’t have a report with specific country details. Another site just states it with no proof.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is a big problem on Ethiopian roads. Every morning there is a report on traffic accidents, by Sgt. Assefa Mezgebu, on FM 97.1. And it is very rarely that the Public Relations officer of the Addis Ababa Police reports there were no accidents during the previous 24 hours.
So what is wrong with Ethiopian drivers? One only has to look around at the traffic that is flowing to see the odd ones out:

  •           Mobile Phones: there seems to be an obsession with being seen driving and talking on a mobile phone among Ethiopians. The amazing thing is, the traffic police do not even bat an eye when a driver crawls at 10 km/hr in an 80 km/hr freeway, yapping on his mobile phone. It might not be illegal but neither would it hurt to ask him to move along and put the phone away for his and other drivers’ safety.

  •          Drunk driving: in Ethiopia it is not illegal to drink and drive. In fact a true story is that a guy so drunk that he cannot stand straight pulls up at a gas station.  Behind him comes a police officer on a motorbike. The officer just sits and watches as the driver staggers to the side of the car, fumbles with the gas cap and finally has to be assisted by an attendant. He just lets him drive away without even a warning. After filling his tank, the officer also pulls out of the gas station and spots a driver who has made a turn without turning his car indicator lights on. He stops him and gives him a ticket. While both drivers were at fault, it really needs no imagination to know which of the two drivers the most serious offender was.

  •          Seat belts: it is taboo to wear seatbelts in Ethiopia, although the custom is slowly picking up. Drivers actually used to be ashamed of wearing seatbelts. They used to be so self conscious thinking that they would be seen as less of a driver by others; And so a minor accident would turn fatal because of one simple nylon belt, or rather the lack of it.

  •          Lane straddling/switching: Ethiopians tend to swerve and curve all over the road. There is no such thing as sticking to one lane, or signaling before switching lanes, especially if it’s a city mini-bus taxi. Whoever is in front has the right of all the road ahead and he can keep zigzagging all he wants. He can cover two lanes and not budge if he feels like it. It’s the problem of the driver behind to find a way to  go around him.

  •         Not wearing the correct protective gear: The funniest, yet most dangerous sight one can see on Addis roads is motorcyclists zipping around the city wearing helmets. Not so funny, right? But the thing is, the helmets are construction helmets, with no straps whatsoever to keep them on. The questions to ask are: Who do they think they’re kidding? And why do the traffic police look the other way?

  •         Road Rage/Impatience (either with other traffic or pedestrians): this needs no comment. Every Ethiopian thinks he is the best driver. And whoever doesn’t watch out, well, needs to!

Now on the opposite side of the spectrum let’s look at how correcting these minor infractions could actually solve the whole road chaos; let’s have a look at one of the safest countries to drive in: the Netherlands. It is illegal to talk on the phone while driving, unless the phone has hands-off techno. Drinking and driving is not tolerated, and therefore the amount of legal alcohol that can be found during a breath-analyzer test is minimal. Seat belts are required not only for the driver and front-passenger for those in the back too. These are just the things that are needed to make our roads safe and mostly common sense all that’s needed to make these correction, after all lives are priceless.


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