A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

“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:

http://www.mot.gov.sy/index.php?d=177&id=597

Traffic Fines

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.

5 Responses to ““Don’t block the box” – Syrian style”

  1. intlxpatr said

    We have a new set of traffic rules in Kuwait, also starting May 1st. One has been advertised frequently in the papers, both in English and Arabic – that cell phone use while driving is forbidden. They also will fine eating and drinking while driving – interesting, huh? At first, they said the fine for cell phone use would be 5KD ($20) but now they are saying 50KD ($200)

  2. S. Worthen said

    Another place where jaywalking can be problematic – Atlanta.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6251431.stm

  3. Tantalus said

    In Saudi Arabia, there’s a fine (followed by tens of lashes and jail) for drunk driving, despite it being a crime punishable by death to smuggle alcohol into the kingdom. The holy kingdom knows that this law should exist, even if alcohol doesn’t😉

  4. Michel said

    For anyone visiting that little unknown country south of Detroit, Toronto enforces jay walking laws. Just ask my daughter…
    Oh, and by the way, I understand that wearing your seat-belt is mandatory in Lebanon…but what about driving with your child on your knees. Some of these children even drive the car??? As Count Floyd would say on SCTV, “OOoooo, Scary, eh kids?”

  5. Taris Revlis said

    You wrote:
    “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.”

    That is not correct. No. 3 of the new regulations states:
    “سوق مركبة في حالة السكر البين أو تجاوز نسبة الكحول في الدم النسب المحددة في التعليمات النافذة”
    Translation: Obviously driving drunk or increasing the allowed amount of bloodalcohol.

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