A new traffic law imposing higher fines on errant motorists is causing public anger in Egypt.
According to published official figures, two million fines, each of which can reach LE 500 ($125), have already been collected since the law came into effect last January. Over 34,741 fines have been imposed on mini-buses, 15,000 unlicensed vehicles were penalized, and 26,000 illegally parked vehicles were immobilized by the infamous "scorpion" - the iron lock traffic authorities clamp on one of the car's wheels.
In addition, more than 3,950 drivers have had their licenses withdrawn for having illegible number plates, 42,888 vehicles were towed away for illegal parking, and 168,000 taxis were fined for not operating the meter.
"The new law is designed to punish only the poor strata of society," a taxi driver working in Heliopolis told Egypt's Al Ahram newspaper. "All my colleagues are planning to sell their taxis and change careers. The fines are unaffordable for people like us, living from hand to mouth. We are paying for repairs by installments.
Many drivers buy their taxis in installments and we all have families and children in schools who need loads of money every month. How can we afford thousands of pounds in fines?"
Interior Minister Habib Al Adli says the law can only bear fruit "if it is applied to everybody, with no exceptions or personal considerations, in order to confront those who threaten lives and endanger private and public property."
The new regulations are intended primarily to reduce accidents. In 1988 alone, more than 23,000 accidents took place on Egypt's roads, claiming the lives of 5,000 people and injuring 22,000. Car accidents cost the country's economy an annual LE 1 billion. Experts believe fastening seat belts - as required by the new law - may reduce 70 percent of accident mortality rates.
Some Egyptians argue that the public is simply unaware of the benefits of the new law. "The media are going about it in the wrong way," said Safwat El Alem, a researcher of traffic problems and professor at the Faculty of Mass Communications at Cairo University.
"Newspaper articles and TV programs should focus on each clause separately to educate people rather than confuse them, as they do now, by dealing with eight or more points together. The interior ministry should have published a small booklet of regulations, signs and penalties even before the law was enforced," he said.
Transport Minister Ibrahim Al Demiri hopes the new law will help solve traffic problems in Cairo. Al Demiri is currently launching a public transport master plan in cooperation with Japan - which is also financing the project - to alleviate traffic problems in the capital.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )