Tunisia tackles road death shame

Tunisians are prone to overload their vehicles thereby obscuring their view of other road users, resulting in danger and, all too frequently, death

Facing an alarming number of traffic accidents, the Tunisian government is working with civil society organisations on awareness campaigns to promote road safety.

Tunisia records an average of 1,500 people killed in road accidents each year, the Tunisian Road Prevention Association (ATPR) said. Nearly half of the victims are aged 15-30.

“Almost every day, four people die because of road accidents,” said Imed Touil, a member of ATPR’s executive bureau.  “These accidents leave a lasting effect as small cars, trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians are often involved in the accidents.

“It becomes lethal when pedestrians and motorcycles, two fragile elements, are involved. This also affects the traffic cycle in the city since 60% of the accidents happen in residential areas inside the city,” he added.

In 2015, a report by the World Health Organisation said Tunisia was not adequately enforcing laws on drunken driving, seat-belt use and helmet use for motorcyclists.

Two years later, the government tightened laws on seat-belt use for most passengers and announced that road safety would be added to primary school curricula. Those decisions were applauded by road safety experts and civil society associations.

“We need to implement this decision, that was taken by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, last year concerning including traffic in the official programme,” said Tunisian Education Minister Hatem Ben Salem. “Today, we build a partnership between the ministry and the ATPR to devise the right strategy to implement this subject within the official programme for next year and to stress the application of these rules and measures.”

Touil said: “The behaviour of drivers is not going to change if we don’t provide the right mechanisms to implement this culture. I am happy we are signing this partnership and next year you will notice the positive impact of implementing this decision.”

Despite the country’s efforts to improve road safety, there is a long way to go in fostering respect for the rules of the road, he said. “This issue is very alarming, especially the behaviour of the drivers on the road is dangerous. There is no respect for the laws,” Touil said.

Oussama Mabrouk, press officer of the National Road Safety Observatory at the Ministry of the Interior, said that while there were efficient laws that regulate roads in Tunisia, “the issue is that of the mentality of drivers who do not realise that these laws are there to protect them and not to penalise them, which is why we need to address the way people think.”

“This is why we resorted to increasing the awareness campaigns. We need to work on implementing a culture of respecting the laws that can be done by consolidating the efforts of the government with that of civil society,” Mabrouk added.

Sadly, Tunisia is not alone in its abysmal road safety record. A number of regional states have equally poor records. The Gulf state of Oman, for example, records more than 25 deaths annually per 100,000 inhabitants, which takes a devastating toll on a country with a population of less than five million people.

This edited article by Roua Khlifi first appeared in The Arab Weekly

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