Tuesday, April 24, 2007

If You Were the King ...

... of Morocco, I asked, what law would you change? Such was the question I posed to half a dozen 20-and 30-somethings last night. Chairs were scraped repositioned into ersatz Conestoga wagon circles, heads met conspiratorially, voices dropped in hushed tones. I'm not certain what I expected (although the plight of the poor, environmental concerns, illiteracy rates & women's issues jumped to mind) but I certainly didn't anticipate a unanimous appeal to alter transportation laws.

Transportation laws? Like tougher penalties for drunk driving, (Remember, Muslims don't drink), r
epairing the roads, enforcing existing laws in a meaningful way, banning bribery?

No, no, no, my students chastized me (complete with wagging fingers). A more equitable system of fines. Wow. Didn't see that coming. Seeing the perplexed expression on my face, one student explained that police fines, i.e., the amount that one pays, should reflect one's income bracket. If you break the law and you are poor, then you shouldn't pay as much as someone who is wealthy. That's not fair, she concluded.

To be fair, I should have seen this coming. This past month, taxi drivers held a 2-day strike over a proposed new transportation bill which would allow "
the government to confiscate driving licenses, impound vehicles, levy hefty fines and even imprison drivers in the event of an accident." Different students offered different interpretations of the "hefty fines" but the number being bandied about is in the thousands of dirhams - to a maximum of $350 US. For many Moroccans, this would exceed their yearly incomes. My students were livid at the injustice of this.

Well, I suggested, wouldn't this be a moot point if drivers didn't break the rules of the road in the first place?

Silence.

In light of the recent suicide bombings in Casa, a colleague recounted how she reassured her family that she was inestimably safer in Morocco than in the United States. Her case in point was the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech. I am far more likely to be shot & killed in the States, she said, than be blown up here. Perhaps that brought some measure of consolation to her family but I took her to task. I don't feel particularly safer in Morocco, I argued. Every day when I step outside my door, I feel like I'm taking my life into my hands - or rather, placing my life into the hands of complete strangers. Complete strangers in cars. In last week's 700+ road accidents, 8 people were killed and over 900 were injured. If I leave Morocco with all of my limbs in place and with complete use of each and every lobe in my cerebral cortex, I will count myself lucky.

Simply put, Moroccans are bad drivers. And when I say bad I really mean God-awful. I've railed waxed poetically on this point in previous blogs but I think it bears repeating when a proposed increase in fines levied against driving infractions creates more dialogue than making Moroccans better drivers and, hence, their roads safer. "
Traffic accidents killed 3,622 Moroccans last year, which constitutes a 4.17% increase over 2005. The total number of accidents rose by 5.22% to 56,426." Bear in mind that car ownership is not as prevalent here as in the West - just a couple of years ago it was estimated that just over 10% of families owned a car, although admittedly that number has increased.

What I find newsworthy in these statistics is that the numbers aren't higher. In a country where drivers routinely:

1) create traffic lanes. Roads built to accommodate 2 lanes of traffic now hold up to 4. Add an additional lane or 2 for motorcyclists.
2) speed recklessly
3) run red lights
4) drive through stop signs
5) drive in the wrong direction on one-way streets
6) don't yield to pedestrians
7) tailgate
8) prefer their car horns over headlights (at night) and turn signals (day & night)
9) shamelessly cut off other drivers
10) not avail themselves of their side or rearview mirrors
11) drive up along and/or park on sidewalks.

So although I appreciate that a $350 fine for running a red light may be exorbidant, as a passenger in a petit taxi who watches in helpless horror as my driver boldly enters an intersection that the cautionary red traffic light has deemed inadvisable, I applaud it. Which made me a very unpopular person in the classroom last night. And yes, I realize that there is a trickle down affect associated with a hike in penalties. As fines increase, so do the attendant bribes that drivers must pay the ticket-wielding police officers who have pulled them over. If 100 or 200 dirhams made a traffic violation disappear under the previous system, what will it take to placate a cop now? 1000 dirhams? 2000?

Which leads me to wonder why my students responded to my original question as they did. Perhaps a more apt response would have been "If I were the King of Morocco, I would quash corruption for once and for all." *Sigh* Until then, I'll continue looking both ways as I walk along Rabat's sidewalks.

14 Comments:

Blogger taamarbuuta said...

That's an interesting question - I may pose that to my advanced class tonight, see if their answers are similar.

Seriously, though, what needs to happen is not an increase of fines. The police need proper training, incentives for levying real fines (rather than "corruption"), better pay, and the laws must be enforced. The fines can stay as they are, so long as they're actually given out.

My husband's father is quite possibly the WORST Moroccan driver I've ever gotten in a car with. Last summer I took the train to Tangier to meet the family for a vacation just to avoid his driving. He drives the wrong way on one-ways, speeds like a bandit, etc. But he doesn't pay corruption or fines - because he's a lawyer, and that's enough to get him off scot-free. It's such bullshit, and both of his sons have learned his bad habits.

What's really odd is that he is an otherwise extremely moral and upstanding person, but somehow just does not take the laws of the road seriously. I will never understand. And I will do everything in my power to force my husband to go to driver's ed back home!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

I agree with everything you say. In the absence of fixing all of Morocco's other transportation woes (which you listed), I'm hoping that increasing the fines will help. It probably won't. It'll probably make corrupt cops richer.

I often wonder about the culture shock Moroccans experience when they move to the West - our driving habits being but one example. Good luck getting your husband to driver's ed - too bad you can't drag your father-in-law along.

2:06 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

Amazing.

In Canada (our population is almost identical to Morocco's) we had 2,923 motor vehicle fatalities in 2005 (the last year available). Presumably, we have a much higher number of vehicles on the road, and due to our vast landmass, we drive far more miles. Our number of deaths per mile driven is likely extremely low compared to Morocco's.

That being said, what's going to modify the behaviour of drivers in Morocco will not be higher fines, but rather effective, consistent enforcement.

If the fines are as high as an average year's salary, the cops will be much more likely to feel sorry for the perpetrators, while greasing their pockets at the same time by accepting bribes.

Plus, I'm guessing that the likelihood of getting caught at all is fairly low.

Those two factors combine for a very low deterrant against bad driving habits.

You're right, though: interesting that the concern of your students would be the fine levels, rather than trying to make the streets of Rabat safer for everyone...

5:25 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

Hmmm...

Looking (as I now have) at the other comments, it seems I didn't really come up with any novel ideas, eh?

;-)

6:00 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Knarf ... but spoken equally eloquently.

8:31 PM  
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1:35 AM  
Blogger LiLi said...

What a surprising answer...I never would have expected that. I didn't know you taught adults, either - it must make the cheating problem that much more difficult to deal with, since they're all set in their ways!

11:36 AM  
Blogger taamarbuuta said...

I hope you don't mind - I used your question as an experiment (I even told my students about your students afterward) and will post about it...

12:31 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

I'll look forward to the post Tar

2:11 PM  
Blogger Nabil said...

I am also surprised by this answer. I am surprised that your students are so concerned by a such law. What is really disturb them? This law or the ditch between the rich and the poor in Morocco?

2:56 PM  
Anonymous ByronB said...

Sounds far more interesting than the driving in the UK, where you only get the odd loony.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

But Byron, you get to be alive!

8:32 PM  
Blogger Matthew Helmke said...

I have a chapter in my book about this very topic--variable fines in Morocco. Corruption is not as bad as it was when I first arrived here, but it is far from gone. I would have to agree with your students that this needs to be one of the administration's highest priorities.

7:53 PM  
Anonymous The Lounsbury - l'Aqoul said...

Bad drivers?

My dear, Moroccans are merely poor drivers.

You have not had enough exposure to the emerging markets to appreciate truly bad driving.

What is actually annoying about Morocco is rather that their driving is not so far off Southern European standards that a bit of proper discipline would not render

But for truly bad driving, I assure you even in MENA there are far, far worse countries (Egypt and Syria, and Lebanon all come to mind).

Training for police is useless. The incentives to corruption are too great. Perhaps punishment, but the tradition of siba in Morocco is rather strong. Standards evolve, the last comment on the evolution of corruption is spot on.

6:11 PM  

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