Wrong Result at Rights of Way

It was an ordinary summer afternoon; a car was cruising along a highway at a regular speed, when a pedestrian, rushing to cross the lane, almost fatally converged with the vehicle. By which I mean, there was a serious car accident.

But, let me be plainer. I was in a public taxi (minibus), sitting at the back, jam-packed and virtually suffocated between three gentlemen. The taxi had just stopped at the place commonly known as Rwanda, and formerly referred to as Africa Avenue, to pick up more passengers. It was slowly accelerating to continue its journey; for lack of a better view inside the overcrowded taxi, I glimpsed through the side window and something I will probably never forget caught my eye.

There was a guy at the highway’s median (which separates the two lanes), waiting to cross. He was worriedly gesturing a stop sign. It was meant for some other person crossing the lane, but that did not register with me at the moment.

Suddenly, that ‘some other person’, an old man of at least 60, came rushing towards the median. When half way to his destination, an Isuzu pickup truck ran into him. The old man was lucky to be small and skinny, because the car did not break his leg. Instead he was flung onto the car, and when the car braked and grinded to a halt, inertia kicked in and the old man was thrown some five feet onto the asphalt road like a giant toy. There was no blood, and the old man’s head did not collide with either the vehicle or the road.

When such unexpected incidents take place, the body stocks itself up with adrenaline. The old man, who at this point has officially become a victim, very slowly (and maybe it was not so slowly and the whole incident took place within seconds, but time too had slowed for me) started to rise up and finally stood. Right away, several bystanders showed up and helped the old man to sit at an adjacent curb.

That whole time, as the old man was trying to stand up by himself, passengers in my taxi were screaming, gasping and panicking; not to mention getting angry – angry at the driver, who still did not get out of the car to help the old man. But the driver was probably in his own private hell. I looked in his direction, and saw a black graying man with his head held low. He had just hit an old man on a zebra crossing; he was not even looking at his luckless victim or at anything outside of his car. He stayed in his Isuzu for some time, probably hoping that this was all just a dream.

Elements of the incident that had just taken place were so surreal, I could not wait to relate them to someone else. I was going to get together with a couple of friends for a project we are working on, and when I got to our rendezvous, I spilled it all out for them. They were pretty psyched, but nowhere near as much as I thought they would be. Right away, they started reciting their own experiences of such accidents. And for a couple of days to come, this was all I talked about with everyone else I met or ran into. And every time I finished telling my story, they would continue with theirs.

We all see some type of vehicle stranded in the middle of the road, or far from it, because of an accident. But, according to the testimonials I have heard, everyone has either seen someone else get hit by a car (at the moment it was happening) or at least know someone who has been involved in such an incident.

The implication is fairly clear: there are way too many car accidents. They are very horrific and a petty way to die, or lose a body part. So much has been said about this topic, and so many reasons have been put forward as to why Ethiopia has such a high mortality rate as a result of these types of accidents. I would like to tackle it from a different angle.

Whenever anyone talks about how much car accidents affect each of us, no one really mentions what the cars – the vehicles themselves – represent. This is a poor country, where having a car rewards its owner an upper-class status. He, or she, by default, becomes success personified and deserving of some respect on even a highway road. True, the law states that a driver has to give way to pedestrians on any street, but most people do not see it that way, and this is why.

The sun may be scorching or it may be raining cats and dogs. A pedestrian is probably stranded at a zebra crossing, waiting until the onslaught of passing cars clears up or a good Samaritan pulls aside. And on a good day, the latter happens. Someone, all cosy and safe from any type of climate, sitting in their leather upholstered car, does stop to let a pedestrian(s) cross. They flick their hand self-righteously to indicate a “go on and pass” sign – as if this is a duty that should be undertaken for those less privileged; as if it was some noble sacrifice that has to be carried out and that, in return, a form of gratitude is expected. And so, as the pedestrian finally crosses – and we have all seen this in our daily lives – they bow their head in complete gratitude.

Let me rephrase this, pedestrians thank a driver for letting them cross a lane! This shows that many misunderstand the law, and even if they do not, it is not enough to override their sense of propriety. And if some 11 deaths a day as a result of car accidents does not change the way we behave, then God only knows what will. I will leave it at that.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a film reviewer whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at christian.Tesfaye@yahoo.Com

Published on Sep 28,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 856]



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