That’s what one tourist said about Cairo traffic. But as of late there’s some new laws on the book aimed to calming the country’s famously manic traffic. Readers of the book will know of my interest in corruption and how that trickles down to traffic, and it’s no exception here. The question is: When laws are made stronger (ostensibly with a reformist goal) in a place plagued by corruption, does it improve things or simply raise the rent-seeking abilities of corrupt officials?
One problem is that some of the new regulations seem Byzantine and not particularly relevant to traffic safety, like requiring fire extinguishers and obligatory first-aid kits in cars. Political analyst Amr El Shobaki was quoted in the FT: “The new traffic law is an example of the rise of extortion in Egypt… [W]ith some effort and sensitivity, the authorities could have presented legislation that improves the situation on the roads, instead of one which seeks to extort money and spread corruption.” I’ve not seen, for example, studies showing how the presence of a fire extinguisher helps eliminate the most common causes of road danger (speed, alcohol, red light running, etc.).
And bribery is, of course, a regressive tax. “The fines are now so high it will no longer be enough to pay off a traffic policeman with E£5 or E£10 [$1.90, €1.30, £1],” said Salah Abdel Ghani, a taxi driver. “This is a law that will affect only the poor, like those who drive taxis and pick-up trucks.” On the other hand, it is noted, the children of wealthy families obtain their licenses before they’ve even learned to drive.
Of course, authorities may claim a short-term safety increase, if only because, as one wag told the Al-Ahram Weekly, “You may have noticed that there are fewer cars in the street, especially the microbuses that are often driven by people with no driver’s licence. In 6 October City about 60 per cent of microbuses have disappeared, mostly because they were operating in violation of the law.”