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Radar speed traps fail to curb fatalities: NGOs.

Summary: More than a year after radar speed traps were installed across the country, the number of deaths from car accidents has barely changed.

BEIRUT: More than a year after radar speed traps were installed across the country, the number of deaths from car accidents has barely changed, a fact road safety groups blame on a failure by authorities to implement the law.

Speed traps began operating in November 2010, and according to Internal Security Forces statistics obtained by The Daily Star, the following year saw a slight drop in the total number of road accidents -- from 4,038 to 3,817.

However, the number of fatalities was nearly unchanged, with 327 killed and 3,809 injured between November 2010 and the end of October 2011, compared with 330 deaths and 4,223 injuries in the same period of the previous year.

Between November 2008 and the end of October 2009, there were 4,531 traffic accidents, claiming the lives of 347 people and injuring 4,922.

But Lina Gebran of the nongovernmental road safety organization Kunhadi says Lebanese Red Cross statistics show that car accidents decreased significantly in the first few months after the speed traps were installed.

In January 2011, accidents dropped by around 28 percent in comparison to January 2010. Then, they dropped by 18 percent in February, 1.16 percent in April, and then rose again -- with an approximate 20-percent increase in July and a 40-percent increase in December.

"This indicates that authorities became less strict in the implementation of the law later in the year," argues Gebran. "They [ISF] say that radars are still operating. I can't check this, but I can read these numbers [which suggest that they're being less strict]."

Gebran argues that the initial decrease in accidents, followed by 2011's increase, kept the number of deaths nearly constant between the year the speed traps were installed and the previous year.

Joe Daccache, from the road safety organization YASA, agrees with Gebran about the initial drop in accidents. Quoting sources from a Dora hospital, he notes that between November 2010 and March 2011, deaths and severe injuries from speeding-related accidents dropped by around 25 percent.

He argues Lebanese have acquired what he calls an "immunity" against speeding tickets, overlooking the fixed value of LL50,000 that Daccache labels "unserious."

Daccache explains that casualties rose in March, as drivers became undeterred by the LL50,000 ticket.

As he explains the thought process to The Daily Star, a person will say "I am in a hurry, and so I will not drive slower than 100 kilometers per hour. I make $100 a day, and so [it's not a problem if] I pay LL 50,000 [in order to] arrive at work on time."

Daccache notes that a progressive fine and stricter measures are set to be implemented in line with the new traffic law which is being studied by Parliament's Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee. He says 420 items have been passed in the law and two only are still being studied.

"There is an item which calls for granting the judge the power to decide on the value of the traffic violation fine ... The fine decided upon by the judge should have a determined minimum value which is much more than the current one and which is a deterrent."

Between Nov. 8, 2010 and Jan. 31, 2011, speed traps recorded 388,628 violations. That brings the total LL50,000 fines to around LL19,431,400,000 ($13.6 million), the bulk of which is channeled to the Finance Ministry, according to an ISF source, who said that a small chunk is used to finance ISF equipment and to feed their pension fund.

Gebran argues that a LL50,000 fine is "is still painful these days." However, she maintains that because a violator receives his or her fine "five or six months" after committing the violation, it is easier to ignore the repercussions of speeding.

She believes a speeder should be "humiliated" if they are to change their behavior. At present, violators are informed of their fine through the Liban Post and can check the ISF website, www.isf.gov.lb, to see if they have any violations. Gebran argues this is not a strict enough measure.

"Long ago, the police used to confiscate the driving license of the violator who had to pay the fine before getting back his driver license," she explains. "All we are demanding is a strict implementation of the law," Gebran stresses.

Evading fine payments can lead to additional fines, and can eventually lead to arrest if evasion continues.

For his part, Daccache touches on the insufficient number of traps in use. He says there are between 12 to 15 mobile radar guns currently operating, a number he says is "not enough." Fixed radar units are not yet in operation.

Another ISF source told The Daily Star that speed traps have partially fulfilled their mission, but acknowledged that more radar guns should be used.

"We would like there to be zero accidents ... but we see the radar guns as partially useful, given that the number of deaths from car accidents did not increase compared to the previous year," the source said.

The ISF source agreed that there should be more speed traps in Lebanon, adding that mobile radar guns are more effective since drivers find them difficult to locate. The source added that fixed radar guns would be put in place in the near future.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Feb 21, 2012
Words:933
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