Race to the Grave

In a matter of seconds, one’s entire life could change for the worst.

The drivers of our city seem hell-bent on decreasing the population of Ethiopia or at the very least creating inconveniences.

Driving a car in Addis Abeba is not just an easier way of getting by, but an exercise of privilege. But drivers cruise the streets like unchecked teenagers while pedestrians and law-abiding drivers suffer.

Most drivers do not seem to understand that the rules and obligations put in place are meant for their own protection. The laws exist so that the daily lives of people, with or without vehicles, runs smoothly. Yet, the rulebook flies out of the window in the absence of a traffic police, especially after 9:00 pm.

During a driver’s license course, the instructor asked the students, “what is the duty of a car at a zebra crossing? Is the driver expected to slow down or come to a full halt?”

Based on my experience as a pedestrian, I thought it would be an easy question to answer, “You slow down until people quickly pass by.”

I was aggressively corrected by the instructor as the rule book states a driver must stop when pedestrians are crossing a zebra line.

But drivers never listen, even in rainy seasons pedestrians can be seen standing in the pouring rain by the zebra crossing, waiting for a chance to cross a street, although they have the legal right to do so. This issue is beyond just abiding by the traffic law but a question of human decency. It is a question of privilege unable to check itself. It is about those with a car understanding they can get to their destination faster and with more comfort than those having to navigate the rogue drivers of the city or be frustrated by public transportation and unpredictable weather.

Our society seems keen to gather privilege without taking the responsibility. Horror stories about reckless driving are too frequent in Ethiopia. If a conversation about road accidents were to start between any congregated number of people, every member of the circle would have two or three stories to share.

As a society, it is crucial to value the rules and not just act in fear of being caught. The rules are not created so that the traffic police can exercise a power trip. The adrenalin rush one gets from driving fast is not worth the risk others may have to endure. It costs lives and causes damage to property.

Human life is a precious thing. Yet, every day, drivers of the city seem to neglect the fact that pedestrians are somebody. They are all trying to get to work, see a friend, get to school or run errands. But pedestrians seem to be expendable in the eyes of drivers.

At driver’s training schools, one of the few requirements for getting accepted is an eighth Grade National Exam result. The assumption is that if one can read and write, then that person can have the ability to process information and make the least dangerous decision. One is not expected to be a rocket scientist but merely have a balanced decision-making ability. But, if an aggregate intelligence level were to be taken for Addis Abeba, measured by drivers’ ability to manoeuvre through the streets of the capital while following the appropriate rules, then we would have a city IQ level akin to what is recognised as ‘definite feeble-mindedness’.

It would not be fair to say all drivers are terrible but the worst types of drivers have created an environment only conducive to their kind of driving.

Often I hear people say, “If you follow the driving rules here, you will definitely get hit by a car.”

Consequently, drivers that abide by the law are forced to do the opposite. It seems it is a beast that feeds itself creating a never-ending cycle of bad drivers and reckless driving. Our society is creating an environment where tricksters are applauded while upstanding citizens are disregarded.

As traffic police have their own dilemmas to deal with, for the most part, their presence creates some order. But the work that needs to be done with drivers is beyond just following rules while the traffic police are there. The work should be about people feeling a sense of responsibility towards their community – feeling responsible for human life. The pedestrians also have their part to play in abiding by the laws of the road and not putting themselves at risk.

But the privilege of driving gives drivers the most responsibility. Accidents are part of being human, but neglect is not an accident. Neglect is carelessness and dangerous. Disregard while driving could change one’s life for the worst.

As traffic accidents are getting worse, we need to start working on solutions to tackle the mentality of privilege and neglect.

By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com) is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Center where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Oct 10,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 911]



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