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Traffic Enforcement and legislation in Lebanon

Traffic Enforcement and legislation in Lebanon

At an early stage motorised traffic started to cross borders. This made it necessary to try to harmonise the rules for traffic. It started by the development of the 1924 Paris Convention on international traffic. The 1949 Geneva Convention succeeded this. Presently, the two Vienna Conven¬tions dated 1968 and revised 1993 govern inter¬national traffic.
The Present Situation in Lebanon 
The present Traffic Law is dated in 1967 that is almost one year before the Vienna Conventions were opened for signature in 1968. Although around twelve amendments have been made over the years, there is an immediate need of a wide revision.
The Lebanese driver licence system, seat belts, drunk driving, public transport and the sanction system are not in agreement with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.
The structure of the current law could be improved and that there are improvements to be made for an adaptation to modern traffic conditions.
Technically, it could naturally always be debated if the distribution of rules between law and regulations is a good one. This is of course to a vast extent depending on the demands by the Lebanese constitution and on the legislative traditions in Lebanon. However, the leading principle should be that the law contains only what is deemed necessary from a constitutional point of view, while other rules should be in regulations. Above all, this is an advantage from the perspective of possible amendments. If there is a need for amendment, it is far easier to make it to regulations than to the law. It has for example been noticed that all road signs and signals are in the Traffic Law. In most countries this type of rules are in regulations or the like. In this context it should also be mentioned that the present system for road signs and signals is not very good. The explanation given is that there are very few traffic engineers in Lebanon.
Another point to be mentioned is the problem with accident statistics. The authority responsible for collecting the data is the traffic police. However, their data does not take into account statistics from hospitals or from the Lebanese Red Cross, which transports most of the accident victims. One reason given for that is that the hospitals often do not report back to the police if a victim has died or how long he has been in the hospital. This is a necessity if the police statistics are to be correct. It should therefore be considered to enact new legislation an obligation for the hospitals – public or private – to give the police such reports.

Seat Belt law in Lebanon
Situation before the enactment of the law 
In 1993, a study managed by Dr Basem Saab showed that only 1 to 2 % use seat belts in Lebanon. During the period 1993- 2000, the use of seat belts use has increased over the past seven years but was still relatively low. In that same period, YASA, SRF, the Lebanese Red Cross, the Lebanese Association for Family Medicine and other voluntary groups was doing much educational and media activities to raise the awareness of the Lebanese about the crucial role of seat belt use in improve road safety inside the vehicles.
In December 2000, an observation organized by the SRF showed that approximately 9 % to 11% of all ages wear seat belt in the driver seat and around 8 % or 9% wear seat belts in the passenger seat next to the driver known as dead seat. While for the youth category (18-30 years old), approximately 12 % to 14% were wearing seat belt in the driver seat and around 11 % to 13% wear seat belts in the passenger seat next to the driver known as dead seat (SRF, 2001).
Initial effects of Seat belt law
On May 3, 2001 the Lebanese Ministry of Interior declared that the national seat belt law is enacted and will enter into force in the beginning of June. It is, however, not an official law in a legal sense, because the Minster enacted a decision to apply the article related to the mandatory seat belt use in front passengers that was introduced as a law in June 1967, without being implemented for around 34 years.
As in most countries, the onset of belt enforcement appears to be the critical factor: the announcement of impending enforcement was not enough.  The decision did almost no change during the 27 days from the third of May till the first of June. The application of this law produced a substantial increase in seat belt use. The effect on the behaviour was immediate and astonishing. The results of the observations where surprising.
       Around 40 percentage points higher that it was one week earlier. This effect is almost similar with other countries. The fact that the increase in belt use was immediate and simultaneous with the enforcement effort is compelling evidence.
For example, on the day British Columbia introduced its seat belt law, 30 percentage points higher were recorded in 24 hours. 

 One year after the enactment of the law
The results that were published in 26 and 27 April 2002, in the Fourth National Conference for Road Safety, deceived all the participants and was reflected in the increase of mortality rate due to RTI in the first quarter of the year 2002. In May 2002, YASA organized interviews with both the public and the police where it proposed enhancing the enforcement programs but no positive efforts were done till now to enforce again this law. Only few exceptions of enforcement occur such as during the last day of the year where highly publicized campaigns were organized to enforce traffic laws.

 Driving under the influence of Alcohol
 Alcohol is a volatile, noxious liquid that is soluble in water. This means that it dissolves in the water of the body. It is affecting the capacities of the brain. What is affected first is the neocortex, which – as regards traffic – is most unfortunate since this is the part of the brain that takes care of planning and qualified decision-making. The effect on neocortex is in practice and irrespective of how used the drinker is to alcohol, closely correlated to the alcohol concentration in the brain.
 It is against the current traffic legislation to drive a motor vehicle while drunk, while no rules are found as regards to other drugs than alcohol. It is up to the discretion of a police officer to judge whether the driver is intoxicated or not. A person with advanced alco¬hol habits can look sober even if he has drunk a lot; on the other hand, even sober persons can for various reasons look drunk. According to SRF, Drunk driving is not a great problem in Lebanon, however the problem can therefore not be seen as non-existing.
 There are a number of possibilities to measure the alcohol concentration in a person’s body. The main possibilities are analysis of blood samples and analysis of breath. The blood analysis is what has been used in most countries for a number of decades. How¬ever, it has a few drawbacks. It requires medical personnel to take the sample. This means not only that it takes medical resources but also that, with necessity, there will be a delay in taking the sample since the suspect will have to be taken to a medical centre or the medical personnel to a police station. It also requires laboratory facilities to make the analysis. Finally, it will take a number of days from the ap¬prehension to the time when the results are available.

The breath analysis does not have these drawbacks. A policeman can perform it. The analysis is made immediately in the instrument and the result is available within seconds. It should though be noted that the possibility of blood analysis still must be available since there are persons that for medical or other reasons cannot perform a breath test.

Evidence/measuring technique
 The only measuring technique that was used in Lebanon in 1999 till 2001 was so called “balloons”. This is a technique that originally was developed as a screening method. It works in the following way. The suspect will blow into a mouthpiece that is connected with a plastic container, the “balloon”. Between the mouthpiece and the “balloon” there is a small tube filled with crystals. If there is alcohol in the breath, the crystals will turn green. This method – apart from being outdated and far from exact – has a definite drawback and that is the fact that it does not give any idea of the degree of intoxication. It was supposed to be completed by analysis of a blood sample. As it is understood this is however not done in Lebanon. Since the degree of intoxication is of the utmost importance for the decisions on sanctions, this is very unfortunate. There are at hand a number of instruments that can be used and that give a measurement of the degree of intoxication. It is recommended that Lebanon use such instruments instead of the present balloons.

BAC limits
The present legislation does not say anything on permissible limits. This is most unfortunate. Even if you expect the public not to drink at all before driving, the fact is that the body itself – as part of the digestion process – produces alcohol in small amounts. This of course should not be regarded as drunk driving.

The limit that should be prescribed could well be discussed. A number of limits are to be found around the world. The main ones are 0,1 per cent, 0,08 per cent, 0,05 per cent measured as alcohol concentration in blood (BAC). The lowest limit practically applied in the world is 0,02 per cent (measured as BAC) which is the one used in Sweden and Norway. It is practically possible to go a little lower but not very much. It is recommended that Lebanon introduce an alcohol concentration limit in the legislation.

The information gathered during the visit says that the practice is to give the drunk driver a fine. This fine is the same irrespective of the degree of intoxication. This is of course to some extent depending on the fact that the instrument used does not allow the establishment of degree of intoxication.

This is most unfortunate since – as will be developed in another part of the report – the reaction should reflect the seriousness of the offence from a road safety point of view. In most developed countries the penalty for drunk driving – at least the serious cases – would be imprisonment.

What is still more problematic is the fact that revocation of licences obviously – according to information gathered – is something that is used very seldom. This will also be commented on later on. However, a basic problem is that there is reason to believe that those who drive while drunk very often are alcohol addicted. The cause for this assumption is – as has been said before – the majority of Lebanese are supposed not to drink at all. The obvious conclusion is that – since this means that the risk for repeated drunk driving is very high – those drivers should be taken away from the road.

It is recommended that the sanctions for drunk driving in Lebanon be reviewed.
4.1.3 Public Transport
The legislation on public transport might not directly have impacts on road safety. However, indirectly it can be very important. For example rules on working hours are very important for professional drivers. Tired drivers can create great dangers. The roadworthiness of the vehicles is of course also of great importance as are the operational conditions of the enterprises. It should be ensured that they have the financial and managerial resources that are needed.

As for goods transport, overloading is a problem that has been noted in the Lebanese traffic. Overloading is important in many ways. It has detrimental effects on handling the vehicle mainly when it comes to steering and braking. At the same time it is very damaging to the roads. As a rule of the thumb, it is accepted that the damage to the road increases ten times as much as the overload. For example, with an overload of five per cent the wear and tear on the road will increase with fifty per cent.

As for passenger transport, one of the main issues is the training and licensing of the drivers. It would seem as if there is quite some room for improvement in that area.

It has been presented a report with suggestions in the field public transport. Time has not permitted any deep studies in the area. However, it is obvious that – even from the point of view of road safety – there is a definite need to revise this legislation.

It is recommended that the public transport legislation be reviewed from a road safety point of view.
4.1.4 The Sanction System
Presently, the Lebanese sanctions are prescribed in the Traffic Law. The information gathered says that for each offence a fine is practised. The fines are grouped in three categories. Each category by law prescribes an interval for the fine. However, in practice a fixed fine is used for each offence. The intervals and the practised fines are appended to this report as Appendix 2. It must be seen as astonishing that in all cases the practised fines are lower than the minimum in the Traffic Law. It is further to be noted that any differentiation between offences of the same kind is not made. This means that a speeding offence will carry the same fine irrespective of how serious the offence is. A speeding of 10 km/h gives the same fine as one of 50 km/h. The same goes for drunk driving, where the fine is the same irrespective of the degree of intoxication.

The legislation is – as can be seen in Appendix 2 – quite lenient as regards fines. Generally speaking, many seem to believe that stricter punishment by itself will improve the situation. The problem is that all experience shows that – even if the severity of the punishment has an impact – it must be coupled with an efficient enforcement. All research shows that the efficiency of the enforcement – in general – is far more important. This is normally referred to as risk for apprehension.

Another aspect that should not be overlooked is linked to what has been said above. If the sanction is much harder than the public finds realistic, it will not be accepted or at least seen as unreasonable. In this case, what the public will do is to find ways of evading the consequences of their actions. This is in the long run adverse not only for the specific rule but also for the confidence in the total legal system. On the other hand, too lenient punishment will be taken as a sign that the legislator does not see the violation as very serious. The consequence is that the punishment prescribed must be well balanced taking into account both these risks. It goes without saying that these considerations also must take into account the relation to the punishments for other offences. It is therefore not possible to say if the punishments in Lebanese legislation for traffic are hard or lenient without comparing with the punishments for “traditional offences”.

A problem that is connected to the one just mentioned is the importance of consequences of the accident when measuring the penalty for the culprit. On one hand, to the public it might seem natural to give much weight to the consequences. On the other hand, the consequences of an accident are often a matter of chance. From this point of view it is rather the dangerous behaviour that should be punished than the consequences. This is a problem that should be analysed more in depth. It would seem as if the classification of the offences in categories has not in all instances taken this point of view into account.

It is recommended that the classification of the traffic offences be reviewed.

Revocation of driver licences
On the whole very few driver licences are suspended or revoked in Lebanon. As mentioned below (5.2), the police when they issue a ticket will impound the driver licence of the offender to secure the payment of the fine. This is however not a suspension or revocation since the licence will be returned as soon as the fine is paid. As can be seen in tables 1–3 of the law (Appendix 3) it is said in certain cases that the licence should be suspended for a certain period of time. It would though seem as if these rules are not applied to any extent.

The driving licence is a certificate of competence. This might seem unnecessary to say but, unfortunately, the licence is often rather seen as a human right. “Certificate of competence” means that, when there is reason to believe that the driver will not behave in a safe way in traffic, action must be taken. Either it could mean that he, one way or the other, should be trained to be a better driver or, if there is little or no hope that he will improve even if trained, he should be deprived of his licence. In the following both expressions – suspension and revocation – are used. Normally, a suspension is limited in time whereas revocation in principle is forever, that is no time limit is set.

A system for licence revocation or suspension could be designed in a number of ways. It should though firstly be noted that a prerequisite for an efficient system is that there exists a register of the licence holders that will prevent a driver whose licence has been suspended or revoked from having a new licence while the previous one is so suspended or revoked. It is presently not known whether the system in Lebanon is such that this objective can be met. Another prerequisite is that there is a system for reporting and registering offences committed by the licence holders and that this system can communicate with the licence register.

The circumstances under which a licence should be suspended or revoked must be reasonably well defined in the legislation. However, there are two main principles for administrating a revocation system. They will be described below.

The first one can be described as a “discretionary” one. With this principle leading, the authority responsible for revocation and suspension will, each time a licence holder commits an offence, review his record and decide whether the licence should be suspended/revoked or not.
The second principle can be said to be “automatic”. This is what is often called a “point” or “demerit” system. With this principle, a specific number of “demerit points” will be awarded for every offence. When a licence holder within a specified time has reached a certain number of points, his licence will be suspended/revoked.

Each of these systems has advantages and drawbacks. They could be described the following way. The “discretionary” system requires more and better qualified manpower since a decision will have to be made in each and every case. On the other hand, the possibilities to take into account various circumstances are better. The “automatic” system does – in principle – not allow for any special circumstances. On the other hand – since it does not require any specific decision-making – the necessity for qualified manpower to operate system is far less.

Apart from the possibilities to suspend or revoke the licence, there are of course other options when a driver commits offences of various kinds. The offences can be caused by lack of knowledge or training. In this case the suspension could be coupled with an obligation to attend a course – theoretical or practical – to improve the driver’s abilities. It could also – when there are suspicions concerning the medical fitness – be coupled to medical examination.

What has been said above shows that – in order to present a reasonable solution for Lebanon concerning suspension/revocation of licences – a deeper study is necessary. It is however no doubt that there are possibilities to improve the present system. Such a study is therefore recommended.

Risk for apprehension
The risk for apprehension, which – as said above – is as important if not more important than the punishment itself, must be analysed a little. The risk for apprehension can be calculated. This calculation can be estimated as the probability for a driver to be checked on the roadside – the objective risk for apprehension. The parameters will then be the number of checks and the number of drivers on the roads. When these two parameters are related to each other the result will be a probability for a driver to be checked by the police. Still more important however is the subjective risk for apprehension, that is how the road user experiences the risk.

The subjective risk can differ considerably from the objective risk. It is also possible to influence the subjective risk for apprehension. Research tells that the mere presence by the police on the roads will contribute considerably to an increase in the subjective risk assessment even if the objective risk (the number of checks in relation to the number of drivers) remains the same. On the other hand, if the police perform most of their work, although efficient, in the office, the public will note the absence of the police on the roads and underestimate the risk for apprehension.

The subjective risk for apprehension is indeed important. The general policy should be that most offenders should be brought to justice and be so fairly quickly. It goes without saying that when it comes to traffic offences it is often not possible to apprehend even the majority of the offenders. However, if too few of the offenders get apprehended, the public will see the law enforcement as haphazard. If they are fined for example for speeding they will see it as the result of bad luck and not a result of having speeded. This is of course something that will have to be counteracted by efficient enforcement.
Considering the general behaviour of the drivers in Lebanon a study should be made on the strategies and tactics of the Traffic police. It could well be that the subjective risk for apprehension among the public could be vastly improved even with minor adjustments in the strategies and tactics. If the assessment of the subjective risk is increased, the rhythm and the pace of the traffic will be improved. Thereby the risk for accidents could decrease substantially.
The Law Enforcement System
The efficiency of the police surveillance as such is discussed in another report in the project. It is therefore not discussed here. However, it has been mentioned during the study that the police does not have any specific training for this specific task. It goes without saying that such training is an absolute necessity for the police. It ca also be doubted whether they have the thorough knowledge of the legislation that they should have.

From what has been noted during meetings it would also seem as if the knowledge of management of traffic police work is less than satisfactory.

One problem that will not be discussed in this report is the issue of corruption. It has been said too often to be neglected that it occurs that policemen on apprehending offenders accept a bribe instead of reporting the offence in a proper way. It has also been said that – if the offender is an “important” person or has “connections in high places” – the policeman prefers not to report the offence. It has of course not been possible to verify or falsify these contentions within the study. Neither is it possible within this project to do very much about the problem since – if it exists – it is a rather general problem in the society that must be tackled in a more general way.

What happens when an offender is apprehended on the road is that the policeman will tell the driver the penalty and give him the possibility to pay the fine within ten days. The policeman will also write a procés verbal (PV). This is forwarded to the traffic court. The court will check if the fine is paid by the offender. If not, the court will handle the case.

It would seem as if the vast majority of the offenders pay their fines. It has been said that the police will issue about 200 000 tickets a year of which about half concern parking offences. The traffic court in Beirut handles about 5 000 cases a year. It is said that the time in the court for handling a case will be around three months. However, if the car is impounded the court will have to handle the case within 24 hours.

An interesting thing in this context is that the police at the apprehension will impound the driving licence until the fine is paid. In certain cases even the vehicle can be impounded
First of all, there is a definite need to improve the traffic legislation. The present Traffic Law is outdated and in need of a revision already from that point of view. However, apart from that, it also has a number of flaws that should be corrected.

It is unfortunately to be noted that the co-operation with the Traffic Management Organisation (TMO) has not been completely satisfactory. The representative of TMO has not attended agreed meetings and requested information has not been provided. This cannot be interpreted otherwise than that the interest for support and co-operation virtually is non-existent. This is a matter of great concern and will require serious discussions whether a continued co-operation is worthwhile.

The efficiency of the traffic police work must be improved. The organisation and management of the traffic police is treated in another report. It should however be underlined that the impact of the legislation is very much depending on the enforcement. What can be seen in the streets and that is most disturbing is that the traffic police seem very passive. Even if they see for example a car driving through a red light they do not seem to react. This is an attitude that must be changed. Further it is a waste of resources to have policemen enforce parking rules. This could very well be done by others.

The Traffic Law has a few rules on revoca¬tion/suspension of driving licences. These rules seem not to be applied. It can also be said that the present rules on revocation/suspension are very lenient in an international comparison. International experience tells that revocation/
suspension is a far more effi¬cient deterrent than fines. Further – and in this context more important – the removal of unfit drivers from the roads is one of the best ways to improve road safety. It is though to be noted that a system for revocation/suspension will have to be tailored to be efficient. This means that there must be a possibility to make provisional arrangements. This means in practice that the police must have the powers to immediately impound the licence pending the final deci¬sion.

Unfortunately, the lack of information from TMO makes it impossible to comment on the possibilities to introduce an efficient revocation/suspension system. It should though be noted that the possibilities to get a new licence during revocation/suspension must be counteracted. This means that the office that receives an application for a licence must have the possibility to check if the applicant has or has had a licence and if there is a revocation/suspension in force. It is also of the utmost importance that the traffic police have immediate access to the register 24 hours a day. Otherwise it will not be possible to effectively check whether a driver has a licence or not.

As for fines, there are a number of problems to be discussed. Firstly, it must be regarded as peculiar that the fines to be paid immediately are far below the minima stipulated in the Traffic Law. One of the explanations that have been given is that the minima, especially for the first category of offences, are so high that the average Lebanese could not pay them. This points to another problem that has to do with the income distribution in Lebanon. A fine that is a heavy burden for one person means nothing to another. This problem could be solved by relating the fines to the offender’s economical situation. In Sweden, for example, the seriousness of an offence is measured by a number of fines. Each fine is then calculated as – in principle – one per mille of the offender’s yearly income.
Another problem is that the fines are fixed for each offence irrespective of how serious the transgression is. The fines for speeding and drunk driving for example are the same even if the driver has driven with a very high speed or has been very drunk.

The fines should be set with regard to the seriousness of the offence from a road safety point of view. Presently, the categorisation of the offences seems not to have been made with this principle in mind.

As noted above, there is – for the reasons mentioned there – an urgent need to improve the draft as concerns seat belts and drunk driving. It is though of great importance that such amendments to the legislation – since they have an impact on all drivers – are preceded by information to the public in order to make them aware of the reasons behind the legislation and the importance of adhering to it. The reasons for this are to be found above under chapter  1.

There are circumstances showing that there is a need to revise the legislation on public transport of passengers and goods. This concerns not only the demands on professionalism of the drivers – which is important in itself – but also to make a legislation that safeguards that the enterprises as such are financially and organisationally sound. If they are not, this will by itself pose a threat to road safety.

Although this problem is not mentioned in the terms of reference, it should be noted that – in order to improve the co-ordination of the emergency services – it is necessary to introduce an overall emergency services legislation in order to create the necessary co-operation between various agencies in complicated emergency operations.

 In order to ensure that the obligation to submit the vehicles for inspection is fulfilled, the traffic police must enforce the regulations to display the windshield sticker. The police must also take on the task to look for cars without the sticker and have suitable means to react. If necessary, new regulations should be issued as a support to the enforcement. The traffic police will also have another important role in relation to the inspections carried out by MECANIQUE. All periodic inspection systems need to be supplemented by random roadside inspections, otherwise it is possible for the vehicle owners to concentrate all maintenance and repairs to immediately before the inspection, even to borrow for example wheels in order to pass, and to neglect the vehicle at all other times. Some of the resources of the traffic police should therefore be devoted to roadside inspections, which are also an element in the quality control of the periodic inspections. Defects found in recently inspected vehicles should be reported to the responsible management at the inspection station. Furthermore, the traffic police should also be engaged in overload checking. Some police patrols should have portable weighing scales and set up overload checkpoints in suitable locations along the main roads. Overloads have
traditionally been regarded as a road and bridge problem, but are also a serious safety problem, especially in the mountains. Also, the police should pay attention to the securing of loads on transport vehicles.

prepared by M.Ziad Akl founder of yasa

Lebanon , Traffic Safety

Date: 4/26/2010 11:44:27 AM

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