February 19, 2005
Drivers with a death wish
Ethiopia's drivers call them the 'Al-Qaedas'. "They will kill you and kill themselves and not even care - they are suicide bombers on the road," one UN driver told me recently. He was talking about the hundreds of new Isuzu trucks that have taken over the country's highways.
Their driving really is alarming. It is not unusual to see two Al-Qaedas side by side coming straight at you, blocking both lanes of the road ahead. You either have to swerve off the tarmac or play chicken and wait for them to nip back on to their side of the line. Most of the time they are also hugely overloaded with piles of Coke crates, eucalyptus trunks or chat bundles stacked up twice as high as the vehicle itself.
No one is certain why one brand of vehicle breeds such erratic behaviour. One theory is that the drivers buy the lorries through crippling credit agreements. Apparently they have to pay it all back within one year. So they spend that year speeding around the country, trying to cram in as many high-paying trips as possible.
Road traffic accidents currently kill 1,800 Ethiopians a year and injure another 7,000. As far as I know, no one has broken down the figures to work out the number of crashes involving Al-Qaedas.
Ethiopia's road conditions have come in for a lot of criticism in the local press recently.
According to Fortune, oil giant Shell has become so worried about the number of accidents, it has taken matters into its own hands.
Alarmed by the increasing carnage, Shell Ethiopia, the largest fuel distributor in Ethiopia with a 60pc share, last week launched an awareness campaign: “Drive to Live”. Shell officials say the campaign is intended to promote the value of safety rules and the benefit of implementing “defensive driving” for drivers employed by the transport companies.
Tony Hickey, owner of the Village Ethiopia travel company, had a great rant in last week's Reporter newspaper, headlined 'Slaughter on the roads - what can we do to stop it?'.
There are a number of reasons behind the high accident rate - poor driving skills, ignorance of traffic regulations, speed, drunken driving, poorly maintained vehicles, and from pedestrians, carelessness and ignorance of the highway code. Since the state is not addressing these problems, is it unreasonable to look to the private sector?...Why could we not look at outsourcing other services, from accident reporting, driver testing, speed traps to traffic signs?"
But there is hope. Last Sunday's Capital paper reported that the Road Transport Authority of Ethiopia had imported four patrol cars to police traffic in the capital.
Posted by aheavens at February 19, 2005 5:15 AM