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‘Colonising our roads’

Sep 10,2016 - Last updated at Sep 10,2016

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was driving home. He and his wife had just finished their weekly shopping trip, on which they took along their two children. The children were now seated in the back seats while their parents were conversing.

The older one, a three-year old, was trying to contribute to the conversation by adding and repeating some phrases here and there. His five-month-old sister was serenely asleep.

All of a sudden, they started hearing noises in the distance: relentless beeping, joyful screams and brake slamming.

When my friend edged closer, he and his wife realised that they were stuck in a jam, that all the lanes, on both directions, were blocked by a fleet of cars moving as slowly as snails.

The cars were crowded with jubilant people of all ages who were celebrating a relative’s or friend’s graduation or marriage.

The scene was surreal; mob mentality reigned supreme.

At the front of this mob were three to four cars that were drifting. Orchestrating this show of insanity was a young man who got off one of the leading cars, indicating to the ready-to-drift-on-cue drivers when to push their handbrake handles up.

At the back, the other drivers continued to honk their horns and edge their cars forward every minute or so. 

Children and adults were sticking their heads out of the car windows or sunroofs.

Meanwhile, my friend’s children were scared; the younger one started to cry and shake, joined by her older brother a few minutes later.

My friend tried to overtake the mobsters, but all his attempts were to no avail, particularly because some drivers left their doors open to close any gaps! 

The atmosphere inside his car was very tense and intolerable. The tension was compounded by an accident caused by one of the mobsters who was speeding to catch up with the drifting drivers. 

For more than half an hour — his journey would normally take less than 10 minutes — utter chaos and lawlessness were the norm.

While my friend was telling me about this, he was red faced. I was deeply sympathetic, but I was not shocked, simply because I had witnessed such scenes several times before. The most recent took place a couple of days ago, when the supporters of a parliamentary candidate closed off a vital street and forced me to take another.

On those lawless occasions, I always found myself thinking of possible scenarios.

What if there is an emergency? How would an ambulance — whose blaring siren is often neglected — transport the sick or injured? (In fact, there are reported cases of ambulance drivers who were unable to transport the sick or injured to the nearest hospital because of “celebratory” closures. The result: the death of those who were being transported.)

What if an injured or sick person was for some reason transported in an ordinary car?

The already bad traffic conditions people here are dealing with beggar one’s imagination: zigzagging cars, cars that drive against traffic, lane-changing and merging without signalling, speeding, throwing garbage out of the windows, drifting, refusing to give the right of way, and so on. But dealing with all of that at the same time is unbearable.

It should go without saying that nobody’s level of joy justifies lawlessness and infringing on the rights of others, as all citizens are equal before the law and none of them owns public spaces.

But such chaotic scenes reinforce feelings of disenfranchisement: Some citizens might think that the law is selectively enforced.

I actually bore witness to one such scene, in which the patrolman either felt unable to do anything or did not see anything wrong with the chaos.

More importantly, our children — who are strongly present on such “joyous” occasions — will probably inherit and replicate those patterns of behaviour, possibly on even larger scale.

If we let this happen, we are ruining the future of the country.

The ruination is economic as well. This pattern of behaviour gives foreigners and tourists a negative image of our beloved country, an image that will affect our economy too.

At a deeper level, it impinges upon our own self-image. 

With such chaos, what happens to citizens’ perceptions of the rule of law and productivity? What happens to our culture when such patterns of behaviour that waste people’s time and effort, and instil a culture of fear — because they threaten people’s lives — persist?

It is our collective responsibility to take action so that our country can remain a safe haven, as it has always been. 

But that will not continue to be the case unless we seriously stress the importance of abiding by the law.

Festive firing has dramatically declined due to His Majesty King Abdullah’s strong directives. 

King Hussein once said: “Human beings are our most valuable asset.” 

We do need to protect that asset, but first we have to realise that those people are colonising our roads, and liberation — by means of transforming them, like festive “firers”, into law-abiding citizens — is long overdue.

 

 

The writer, a Fulbright scholar, contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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