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Activists press for new traffic legislation

Activists press for new traffic legislation

July 25, 2011 
By Marie Dhumières The Daily Star 
BEIRUT: New seatbelt requirements, a stricter driver’s license exam and fewer road accidents may be on the horizon if the draft traffic law is endorsed by Parliament during its legislative session, set to begin Aug. 3.

According to Beirut MP Mohammad Qabbani, head of the Public Works and Transportation parliamentary committee, the new law is “revolutionary” as it completely changes the country’s rules of the road.

But Joe Daccache, vice president of the traffic safety awareness organization YASA International, said the joint parliamentary committee responsible for debating the law, which started meeting some eight months ago, had only approved 14 out of its 420 articles.

“All articles need to be approved for the law to be sent before the Parliament’s legislative session,” he explained as he expressed hope that this would be accomplished before the end of the legislative session.

The draft law, which was written by YASA and presented to Parliament in 2005, aims to replace the current traffic law, which was passed in 1967.

The major changes put forth by the draft law, both Daccache and Qabbani agreed, are the creation of a point system for driver’s licenses, the introduction of a new format for driver’s license exams and mandatory accreditation for driving schools.

If the law passes, the driver’s license exam will include a written test and a practical test on the open road. Test-takers currently drive on a closed course.

Driving schools will have to be accredited by the Interior Ministry and instructors will be required to take a certified three-year training course.

“Now everybody pays $500 to get a driver’s license … There are no rules,” Qabbani lamented.

Although Qabbani said he didn’t believe MPs would oppose any of the law’s articles, Daccache expressed concerns about some proposals, which he said might prove “controversial.”

Driving schools might be one of them, he said.

“Every politician has social commitments to his ‘clan,’ including letting them open driving schools,” he said. He also explained that some politicians had financial interests in opening and maintaining driving schools.

“There are some 1,000 improperly equipped driving schools, with no proper instructors … Schools that don’t meet the standards will have to close,” he said, and some MPs might oppose this.

An article aimed at standardizing all car license plates’ colors and alphanumeric inscriptions – banning the current special plates for politicians – might also be hard to pass, he said, citing the “Lebanese VIP mentality.”

For his part, Qabbani praised the new car license plate system for facilitating the creation of a database for every car and driver.

The lawmaker said judicial records are currentlyonly kept for crimes, but with the passage of the law, records would be extended to include traffic violations. This would allow the implementation of a system of fines that takes into account previous violations.

He added that the consumption of alcohol and drugs would also be taken into account in the penalties assessed for traffic violations.

The new law will also make seatbelts mandatory for all passengers, whereas current legislation requires seatbelts be worn in the front seat. Children’s car seats will become mandatory, and children under the age of 10 will be forbidden from riding in the front passenger seat. Taxes for safety-related items, such as seatbelts and airbags, will also be abolished.

According to Daccache, the new law will undoubtedly have a strong impact on road safety.

He said a study conducted in 2004 by SweRoad, the consultancy arm of the Swedish Road Administration, which showed that a new traffic law would reduce road fatal casualties by 20 percent.

But, lamented Daccache, “No one is doing anything. All ministries received the study and put it in their drawer.”

Although Daccache believed the new law would make a real difference in theory, he also stressed that “the main issue is to implement the law, not only to pass it.”

He argued that if the current law were correctly enforced, fatal casualties would have already decreased by some 15 percent.

“A big portion of the old traffic law is good, but it’s not being implemented,” he said.

That’s why, he explained, the bill includes a series of mechanisms aimed at effective enforcement of the law.

“The new law will introduce new technologies and reduce the human factor,” Daccache said, explaining that written portion of the driver’s license exam will be computerized and police will receive proper traffic law enforcement training.

“Increasing police knowledge and reducing the human factor will be a very good way to enforce the law,” he said.

The draft law also includes plans for a new police department specially dedicated to enforcing traffic laws. Daccache said this would be an improvement on the current situation which sees policemen changing division frequently, which he said has made proper training extremely difficult.

“With the new law, they will be trained [to enforce traffic laws] and will stick to the traffic department.”

Daccache was optimistic that with these new mechanisms the law would actually be enforced, but he warned that “we’re still in Lebanon; we’ll have to lobby for this [to happen].”

Lebanon North , Traffic Law

Date: 7/25/2011 4:57:37 PM

By: YASA WEB , The Daily Star
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