If you’ve been active on social media this summer you’ve most likely come across many families and friends grieving the loss of a loved one due to road accidents. Summer is especially infamous for Egypt’s roads and haphazard drivers causing casualties, but even with the improved Al Alamein road being re-opened in time for summer travelers, there still appeared to be an abundance of accidents and deaths reported. Granted, we all know Egypt’s roads have been killers for quite some time, but many people have begun using the platform of social media (predominantly Facebook) to air their grievances and make their voices heard. One such incident that touched so many people was the death of 7 year old Dania.

We wanted to know more about the discussions and possible solutions surrounding Egypt’s roads, so we met with Transportation Safety Expert Khaled Mostafa. Since returning to Egypt around three years ago, Khaled has had his sights on the dire need to change road standards and cultural norms about road safety. He believed “The problem wasn’t going to solve itself”, and has made it his mission to initiate that change through his work and various platforms.

Do You Even Buckle-Up?
Taking a quick history lesson from the early 2000’s, Khaled asserts that road safety was slightly better then, due to campaigns and law enforcement that focused more on seatbelt safety and eliminating mobile phone usage at the time. Now there is an estimate of only 20% seatbelt usage happening in Egypt. For Khaled, this shows that ”When you enforce it, it happens”, and the decline has been due to a lack of law enforcement.

So the question remains, do you even buckle up? Do you buckle your children into their car seats before you start moving? This single step is the most crucial in initiating change and the way people can become more responsible for their own wellbeing. It’s a mandatory safety feature in every modern car produced, yet it’s proving to be the most accessibly overlooked option out there.

This simple habit of neglect so ingrained in us is why Khaled asserts, “Knowledge is what’s needed for the direction of the change to be positive”. In the examples of this summer’s many accidents and their social media backlashes, people affected are only making suggestions without a real foundation of knowledge, which can do more harm than good. While people who suffer damages or loss from road hazards are not capable or qualified in setting accurate and effective laws, they do have a right to use their voices to get the attention of correct officials and regulators in order to enact change in the country’s 80 billion LE a year traffic drain. That’s the ideal, however, the reality is much different, and that’s where Khaled aims to step in as a middle man.

Picking Sides
There are always at least two sides to a story. The side that represents the government when it comes to road standards and safety remains, for the most part, silent. Aside from flat out denial of the poor infrastructure we drive on daily, the government also does “not properly investigate a crash, they’re not properly collecting data and there is not enough freedom of information to demand this data. For a scientist as much as non-scientists, we’re all blind, because of a lack of proper crash data”. This is in comparison to somewhere like the US where something like 300-400 data points are gathered to assess each crash, in addition to many other statistics that determine what cause accidents by assessing how much fault goes to road conditions, vehicle conditions and driver error. All in all, “One of the main problems we have in Egypt is that those 3 factors are managed separately by different entities. There is no synchronization between them. There is no understanding of the effect on one or the other. Road safety is a multi-disciplinary science. Needless to say, expertise in each discipline is generally inadequate”

Looking around from where we’re sitting, we observed several people breaking basic traffic laws due to lack of law enforcement and usage of incomplete roads, especially in newly developed suburban areas. “Having a general absence or at least a perception of absence of law enforcement makes people comfortable ignoring the law”, Khaled explains. “What happens here, if someone takes a short cut from going the wrong way [here], they do profit from it. This causes chaos and a huge amount of inefficiency”, he goes on to argue.

Can Citizens Change the Roads?
On the other side, Khaled also doesn’t believe citizens should be fully blamed. Because of the lack of law enforcement there becomes a disconnect from authority and accountability, which shouldn’t be the case. He’s also realistic in recognizing that relying on citizens to make the right choices is not going to happen, and will only remotely even begin to shift with education and putting pressure on those with the authority to actually be accountable. “We have to be more in sync together”, he believes, in order to see issues like this solved.

When it comes to citizens demanding change, like we saw in much of the social media exposure crashes have recently received, Khaled reiterates the need for a middle man; My expertise is the knowledge, so that when you demand something it will be the right thing to demand…When it comes to awareness, we have a huge gap between what people think is right and what is right. This is what I’m trying to fill.”

We got the direct details on how Khaled believes this issue can ultimately be tackled and what you can do in your life to help make Egypt’s roads safer for everyone:

Do you think that the solution comes from the top down?
“Absolutely. I’m trying to drive the bottom up, in order to do two things; in order to give those who want to be good citizens the awareness to do that. Even a small percentage of 90 million people is a good figure. I have a video awareness program that I just finished in order to transfer this message, Egbary Yemeen. The other goal of the bottom up campaign is to pressure the top in order to do the proper top down actions.”

Can any citizen contact a truck company or delivery service or compound? How can they be empowered to create the changes upwards?
In numbers. Don’t try to talk individually. If 90% of the compound is saying something individually, they can easily be dismissed. If we talk amongst each other and come up with a demand, it will happen. Creating a small lobby in order to deal with a compound or private company, can be done. It’s the same thing with the government. If you have 20 or 30 major corporations in Egypt that demand a particular action, it will happen. But if it’s individual everyone is going to ignore you.”

What we need is:

  • Development of codes and standards and laws that applies to vehicles, road and drivers
  • Road building codes, vehicle standards and traffics laws should be developed in a more scientific way and relax what is too strict to realistically apply at this time, like road building codes.
  • Strict application

When looking at the bigger picture and best possible outcome, Khaled revealed that he is highly interested in creating a separate, lead agency for traffic safety in Egypt. He explained, “It has to be under the offices of the president or the prime minister because it has to oversee many of the ministries. They should have autonomous, independent decision making power. They would have the right to draft and apply laws and monitor the enforcement of the laws to make sure they’re able to actually enforce the enforcement. We need at least one research center in one of the universities for localized and applied research, to do studies and be a lot more practical and localized form of research.“

What do we need to know to make better decisions to keep ourselves and our loved ones safer?

  • Child safety
  • Seat belt safety
  • Follow road safety while driving
  • Get involved for local and communal change! Discover information and the services provided by the Nada Foundation, Road Safety in Egypt, and Khaled’s own platform KM Road Safety. Keep in mind that corporations also have a corporate responsibility obligation to associate themselves with road safety to reach out and raise awareness, for their drivers and the community at large.
  • Whether you already own a car or are looking to buy a new one, check car safety standards by researching similar makes and models and comparing their front and rear crash ratings, roll over resistance and air bag ratings.

Correct Child Safety Procedures:

  • Infant Up to a year (around 10 kilos) in a rear facing car seat. Car seats should be placed in the middle of the back seat, facing the back window. These car seats can only be placed in the front seat only if the front air bag is off. Rear facing seats are the safest and weight is the most important requirement for these types, meaning that your child can still use their seat if they are over a year old but under the maximum weight for the seat. Instructions for each car seat should be carefully followed to properly secure the car seat itself and how to buckle the infant in.
  • 1 Year and Up A front facing car seat up to the maximum weight allowed for seat you have should be used. Read the instructions carefully to know how your seat should be secured and your child belted in. These car seats are also best placed in the middle back seat.
  • Booster Seat Booster seats are used for children to have the correct placement of the car’s seat belt on their body, in order to protect them in a crash. Once the child is tall enough for the seat belt to reach their shoulder and not interfere with their neck, a booster seat is not required.

No child should EVER be in the driver’s seat, standing on the seats, or with their heads out of any window or sunroof. Ever.  

Correct Seat Belt Placement:
Most cars now allow you to adjust your seat belt position, so take advantage to stay safe! Pregnant women should also be sure their lap belt goes under their belly, not across it, while resting across the hip bones.

If you’re going to demand change, it’s important to know the safest and most efficient road set-ups:

  • Safest and Most Efficient: Overpass/underpass interchanges.
  • Medium Safety and Efficiency: Intersection with stop lights, best for significant traffic.
  • Medium Safety and Efficiency: Roundabouts. Mostly acceptable for steady, but low flows of traffic.
  • Least Safe and Most Inefficient: U-turns

Find out more about road safety in Egypt, how you can get involved through Egbary Yemeen on Twitter and Facebook, or even get in touch directly with Khaled on his own Facebook page.

Feature Image: Emma El Hawary