“Don’t block the box” – Syrian style
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 29, 2008
I love warden messages – especially when they include more than the usual boiler-plate about the State Department recommending that all Americans defer travel to – well, the rest of the world.
Today’s warden message is a total gem. It comes from the US Embassy in Syria, and announces the enforcement of a very assertive set of traffic laws. Here is the text of the message:
New Traffic Regulations in Syria
On May 01, 2008, the Syrian government will begin enforcement of new traffic regulations which were announced in January, 2008. Many of these regulations are designed to increase road safety for both vehicles and pedestrians, and call for fines and a “point system” for violations. The following is a partial summary. The full text in Arabic can be found at:
Fines ranging from 500 to 10,000 Syrian lira (SYP) will be imposed for infractions such as:
· Children riding in the front seat or in the driver’s lap
· Tossing rubbish from vehicles while driving
· Playing loud music while driving through neighborhoods at night
· Failing to use directional signals when turning
· Reckless speed and changing of lanes
· Transporting items exceeding the body of the vehicle in a dangerous manner
· Using cellular phones (mobile phones) while driving
· Having a license plate with illegible numbers
· Allowing unlicensed drivers to drive the vehicle
· Passing other vehicles on corners, uphill slopes, tunnel, bridges and crossroads
· Driving without a valid insurance contract
· Not using safety belts in the front seat
· Not keeping a first aid (medical) kit in the vehicle
· Not keeping a fire extinguisher in the vehicle
· Driving with an expired license
Pedestrians may be fined 200 SYP for “jay-walking” — crossing the street not in the designated location or against the light.
I’m thrilled by these regulations – except for the jay-walking. The only city in the US that I remember enforcing jay-walking laws is Phoenix, AZ and its posh suburbs. I remember traveling there for a high school trip and being sternly warned by our chaperones not, on pain of incarceration and heavy fines, to cross against the light. And I remember thinking: this town must have every other possible issue under control if its government can afford to worry about pedestrian crossings
Using that same logic, I’m not sure the Syrian government should be focused on jay-walking just yet. Enforcing seat belt laws, requiring that children ride in the back seat, and punishing reckless driving are monumental tasks by themselves – and if the government’s enforcement is able to instill new driving habits in Syria’s drivers, it will be a great achievement. Save the jay-walking for another set of laws – and make sure that the next set includes a complementary law requiring drivers to stop at cross-walks if a pedestrian is there. Until that day, walking in Syria (and Lebanon) will continue to be the Hail Mary adventure that it is now.
One regulation that I don’t see is a drunk driving law. The number of drunk drivers in Syria and Lebanon must vastly exceed the proportionate number in the US – and when they drive drunk here, they drive very drunk. Pretending that drunk driving does not happen because these are Muslim-majority countries is no solution.
Finally, the new regulations include a very Manhattan-style point system. No word on whether any “don’t block the box” points are included in it, but the idea is the same:
In addition to fines, a “point system” has been developed to track repeat offenders. Each infraction carries a certain number of points, based on the severity of the infraction and the judgment of the official issuing the citation. The maximum number of points is sixteen (16). When someone reaches 16 points, the following rules apply:
· First instance of 16 points: suspension of driving license for three months
· Second instance of 16 points: suspension of driving license for six months and requirement to take a driving course
· Third instance of 16 points: suspension of driving license for nine months and requirement to take a driving course
· Fourth instance of 16 points: cancellation of driving privileges, requirement to take a driving course and a new examination will be required to get a new driving license. Also, a new license cannot be obtained in less than one year.
Most Syrian drivers I know are conscientious, safe drivers already. As for the rest – and for Syrian society generally – I think the regulations are a great thing.
And I’m sure that they will be enforced assiduously – at least for the first week.