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Tackling a killer: YASA aims to turn tide of Lebanon’s infamously lethal driving habits

Tackling a killer: YASA aims to turn tide of Lebanon’s infamously lethal driving habits

Lebanon has one of the highest car accident rate among developing countries, with 900 road fatalities annually, according to Ziad Akl, founder of the Youth Association for Social Awareness (YASA).
In a press conference on Monday organized by YASA, Akl stressed how every individual in society is responsible for his own safety and that of others when it comes to the road.
According to Akl, most car accidents are due to “negligence.”
Misplaced “construction zone” signs, unworn seat belts, irresponsible alcohol consumption and, especially, speeding are the most common causes of accidents, Akl explained to his young audience.
“You future drivers, fathers and mothers, are the ones who should make a difference in this country,” Akl added, “by exhibiting a safe driving attitude, hence promoting safe and responsible friends among your acquaintances, family and future children.”
“Unfortunately, speed is very rarely penalized by the Internal Security Forces in this country, because it is very difficult to monitor and control,” he said, “however, we are working on a new radar speed detection project, which will hopefully be released this year.”
The project, he explained, consists of many radars that will be placed on highways all over the country.
“Each time a given car’s speed exceeds the allowed limit, the radar will automatically ‘tag’ the car number,” Akl explained, “and will issue a contravention ticket that will be automatically added to the car’s mecanique.”
Hoping this control technique will help citizens “follow the rules and respect the law,” Akl added that the automatic radar detection project will also be applied to motorcycle riders, “as 90 percent of these drivers do not follow even basic safety procedures, such as wearing a helmet.”
The decadent driving attitude in Lebanon is, according to Akl, one of the main “tourism inhibitors.”
“With the bad reputation our roads have, tourists will be very reluctant to come and visit.”
Concerning road safety and car accidents during the holiday season, Akl strongly suggested to his audience a very simple preventive technique called the “designated driver.”
“If you decide to get drunk on New Year’s Eve, then make sure you assign one of your friends, someone who for instance doesn’t like alcohol or someone who decided to stay sober, to drive you home on your way back,” Akl said, “you can then feel free to drink and have fun without threatening your life and that of others, and risking a contravention ticket on your way back.”
Akl furthermore added that each holiday witnesses twice as many car accidents than a regular day.
“Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) can be estimated readily by the measurement of alcohol levels in exhaled air,” explained Maha Chacar from Balamand’s Faculty of Medicine and Medical Sciences.
“A BAL as low as 0.02 percent alcohol (20 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood), affects driving ability and the likelihood of accidents,” she said.
“Alcohol-impaired driving,” Chacar explained, is a more accurate description of what is referred to as “drunk driving.”
Alcohol, she said, impairs the senses ¬ such as vision, night vision, tunnel vision and delays the motor skills and reflexes, hence delaying the reaction time and reducing one’s control over body movement.
Akl, however, commented that the alcohol abuse problem in Lebanon is still much less of a problem than in Europe and the United States, adding that drugs, physical and mental fatigue, as well as sleeping disorders are also fatal accident causes.
“There is a law in every developed country that forbids anyone from driving more than two hours in a row,” Akl said. “Unfortunately, pick any taxi driver in Lebanon and you’ll see he’s been driving nonstop for a minimum of five to six hours. This is very dangerous. Driving for several hours reduces road concentration.”
The death of 19-year-old Tarek Assi in August 1994 motivated friends to establish a club, the Youth Association for Social Awareness, or YASA, in his memory. YASA started at the American University of Beirut, then expanded to become a nongovernmental organization recognized by the Lebanese government since 1996. YASA has 700 members and organizes continuous awareness campaigns to reduce car accidents.

Revised June 2010

Lebanon , Traffic Safety

Date: 6/18/2010 4:30:18 PM

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