Published on February 26, 2014
DEADLY DRIVING HABITS: ACCIDENTS THIRD CAUSE OF DEATH IN LIBYA TRIPOLI 00000939 001.2 OF 003 Passed to the Telegraph by WikiLeaks 9:33PM GMT 31 Jan 2011 Ref ID: 09TRIPOLI939 Date: 11/25/2009 14:45 Origin: Embassy Tripoli Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Destination: Header: VZCZCXRO8595OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSRDE RUEHTRO #0939/01 3291445ZNY CCCCC ZZHO P 251445Z NOV 09FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLITO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5506INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVERUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVERUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DCRHMFISS/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GERHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DCRUEAIIA/CIA WASHDCRUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6056 Tags: PGOV,PREL,ELTN,EAID,SOCI,LY,EINV C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TRIPOLI 000939 SIPDIS STATE FOR NEA/MAG E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2019 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ELTN, EAID, SOCI, LY, EINV SUBJECT: DEADLY DRIVING HABITS: ACCIDENTS THIRD CAUSE OF DEATH IN LIBYA TRIPOLI 00000939 001.2 OF 003 CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1.(C) Summary: Traffic accidents are the third-leading cause of death in Libya, according to the World Health Organization. Heavily subsided fuel, readily available cars, poor road conditions, easily obtained licenses, and drug and alcohol abuse contribute to the problem. Some attribute Libyans' atrocious driving habits to the stifling political climate, with limited personal freedoms leading many to drive with little regard for others. While recent traffic flows in Tripoli appear to be worse than ever, according Taher Mahmoudi, the head of Libya's Traffic Department, traffic fatalities are leveling off and starting to decrease due to a multi-pronged strategy by the Libyan government that involves capacity-building and training of police, educational outreach to students, and infrastructure upgrades. According to Mahmoudi, the way forward requires a coordinated effort among police, infrastructure, justice, and education authorities. Private companies, particularly foreign companies, working in Libya have begun to collaborate with the Libyan government and with Libyans who have been personally affected by road tragedies, to encourage local drivers to abide by traffic and public safety laws and to
reform their driving habits. U.S. efforts to support this initiative could also have a positive impact on civic activism. End summary. NO ONE IS UNTOUCHED BY UNSAFE ROADS IN TRIPOLI 2.(SBU) The combination of unsafe driving habits, poor roads, and relatively high car ownership make Libya's roads among the most hazardous in the world. Subsidized petrol costs about 65 cents per gallon, and the government imports thousands of cars every year, which it provides to regime loyalists and civil servants as job (and loyalty) perks, resulting in heavy traffic conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic injuries are the third-leading cause of death in Libya, following cardiovascular diseases and cancer. 3.(SBU) The diplomatic community has experienced several tragedies on the road since foreign embassies and businesses began returning to Libya a few years ago. In 2008, the Malaysian Charge d'Affaires was killed in an accident on the airport highway. In the past year, Embassy Tripoli has lost three Libyan colleagues to traffic accidents: two Embassy guards were killed a year ago while one of them was behind the wheel, en route to his own wedding. Another guard died while driving home after his shift at the Embassy; he was hit head-on by a truck. In 2008, a U.S. diplomat was medically evacuated due to a road accident in which her car was destroyed. The anecdotes do not stop there -- the fiancee of one local employee was hit head-on while driving her car four years ago. She has had to travel to France to have several plastic surgery operations to repair her face, which was unrecognizable after the accident, costing her family thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a result, her wedding has been postponed indefinitely. Several other staff members and their families and friends have been injured in traffic accidents. "SEAT-BELTS ARE TOO UNCOMFORTABLE TO USE" 4.(SBU) Drivers, traffic officials, expatriates and others cite a lack of driver education, loose enforcement of traffic rules, easy access to drivers' licenses, and poor driving conditions as factors contributing to the dangerous Libyan road conditions. A study by a German consulting firm reportedly concluded the problem with traffic in Libya was not due to the roads, but the result of the unsafe habits of most drivers. Even our own Embassy drivers adopt different habits when driving for official versus personal purposes. One Embassy driver, when asked whether he wore a seatbelt while driving his own car said no, since it was "uncomfortable" and hurt his football-related injuries (around the abdomen). He said it was fine to not wear a seatbelt when driving inside the
city of Tripoli since heavy urban traffic forced driving speeds to be relatively low. [Note: In May 2009, Libya enacted a seatbelt law mandating use of seatbelts, yet only about one in ten drivers can be seen wearing seatbelts. End note.] Related hazards included the almost total lack of use of car-seats for infants and the requirement that children only sit in the backseats of cars (with seatbelts on). Many parents can be seen holding babies on their laps while driving, while small children routinely romp between the front and back seats as their guardians drive at high speeds. TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR REPORTS SOME PROGRESS 5.(C) While recent traffic flows in Tripoli appear to be worse than ever, according to the head of Libya's Traffic Department TRIPOLI 00000939 002.2 OF 003 (under the General People's Committee for Public Security), Taher Mahmoudi, traffic fatalities are leveling off and starting to decrease due to a multi-pronged effort by the government. He said when he started as the head of the department three years ago, the government was approaching the problem only from a law enforcement perspective. The problem, however, was multi-faceted, and included driving at excessive speeds, disregard for seatbelt laws, and the cultural requirement to frequently visit family, even if they live large distances away. In addition, the rates of car ownership are very high. According to Mahmoudi, the government recently adopted a strategy to target traffic safety, which he described as based on the "four E's" of Engineering, Emergency Services, Education and Environment. In Mahmoudi's view, Libya needs a "pragmatic approach" to traffic safety, led by a "decision-maker" within society. Mahmoudi identified the related problem of lack of coordination among police, the courts, licensing and inspection authorities, and educational bodies as an area that also needed to be addressed. 6.(C) Mahmoudi noted that Libya has 30,000 kilometers of roads, but that the state did not differentiate how many of those were "safe" roads. Working with companies, such as Shell, his office has directed resources from Libya's Roads and Bridges Authority to upgrade particularly dangerous stretches of road around the country. Mahmoudi credits himself with the early 2009 addition of clearly visible road signs in Tripoli, including along the heavily traveled "Second Ring Road." According to Mahmoudi, prior to his efforts, over 20 miles of the city's main highway were completely devoid of signage and exit markers. While the signs are currently only written in Arabic (he was refused permission to include English), many of the signs do include pictograms (such as an airplane indicating the airport) and/or internationally-recognized symbols indicating speed limits and non-parking zones. The roads in eastern Libya are especially hazardous due to dangerous passing habits on two-lane highways. Other country-wide problems include: driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (despite an alcohol ban in this Muslim country), pedestrians wandering into traffic, talking or texting on cell phones
while driving, corrupt practices in issuing licenses, and the lack of a car inspection regime. Mahmoudi said poor tire quality was also a serious issue, since many people used "cheap, poor-quality, Chinese tires" on their vehicles. In a year and a half, Libya will begin a program to inspect vehicles, which, if implemented, would be an important step towards keeping old, unsafe cars off the roads. Mahmoudi said that a new system for producing professional-quality drivers' licenses (along with mandatory testing) will also be developed. [Note: At present, the Libyan driver's license is a hand-written, laminated card with no picture, which is easily forged. One can reportedly pay a US 50 dollar bribe to a DMV-equivalent office clerk in exchange for a license. End note.] 7.(C) Mahmoudi said he was puzzled as to why "seemingly normal people" would become totally different once behind the wheel. He said many people in Libya exhibited "criminal behavior" as soon as they got into their cars. He consulted a psychologist to try to gain insight into this phenomenon; however, he still has not reached any conclusions. Mahmoudi believes the change in mindset vis-a-vis driving safety will be generational. Thus, he has launched an outreach program to educate secondary school students about road safety. He said the students report going home to their parents to discuss issues such as the need to wear seatbelts and other safety measures after interventions at their schools. FOREIGN PRIVATE SECTOR CONCERNED 8.(SBU) Most international companies have strict policies when it comes to driving, either not allowing their expatriate staff to drive in Libya at all, or only allowing them to drive after completing a road safety course. The American construction firm, AECOM, decided to avoid any potential injuries to expatriate staff (or liability issues if they were to hit someone) by refusing to allow any expatriate staff to drive. Instead, transportation is provided to/from home to work and for other needs. Many oil companies have similar policies and provide cars with drivers to their staff. A few companies allow expatriates to drive, but only after taking a rigorous driver-safety courses. To monitor locally-hired drivers, many companies have outfitted vehicles with USB devices that track speed, breaking patterns, and other factors for each shift; this information is then downloaded and analyzed. The U.S. oil company Amerada Hess has witnessed a dramatic decrease in the TRIPOLI 00000939 003.2 OF 003 number of dents in its motorpool fleet since the company adopted the USB system. The oil services company, Schlumberger, has a particularly aggressive road safety strategy and employs an accident simulator called "the Convincer" that has participants experience what would happen to a baby (in this case a greased watermelon) in the event of a collision. Shell has taken its program a step further to educate not only its own staff but also the general public about road safety. They have
also teamed up with Mahmoudi's department to improve treacherous roads in and around the areas where they are working in eastern Libya. 9.(C) Comment: A daily topic of discussion among expatriates and Libyans alike is the appalling manner in which most people here drive. One theory is that Libyans enjoy so few personal freedoms that driving their own cars with little regard for other drivers is something the regime permits as a sort of pressure valve. Most people shun the use of seatbelts, which they deem too constricting and uncomfortable. In a country with no discotheques, theaters, bars, and only one small shopping mall, young people have nowhere to go and nothing to do other than drive around in their parents' cars. As articulated by the head of Libya's traffic office, traffic safety will only be improved through a coordinated effort among various Libyan authorities, including the police and infrastructure, justice, and education ministries. Opportunities to work with private companies exist, particularly with foreign companies, who recognize the need to protect their most precious assets (their people) and also to involve average Libyans who have been touched by road tragedies. Organizations including the Red Crescent Society, the Scouts and youth groups can also be involved in making roads safer. By working together, government, civil society, and the private sector can effect a gradual change in attitudes and behavior among Libyan drivers. In the process, these programs can also have a positive impact on civic activism. Post aims to engage these actors to tackle the third highest killer of Libyans using Economic Support Funds and other resources that may become available. End comment. CRETZ
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