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Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 12:57 GMT

World: Middle East

Egypt's killer traffic

Too many cars, not enough road space

By BBC Cairo Correspondent Barbara Plett

Traffic is proving a major killer in Egypt where there have been nine major accidents already this year.

Visitors to Egypt might worry about highly publicised attacks against tourists by militant Islamic extremists.

But travelling on the country's roads could prove far more dangerous. The country has one of the highest traffic death rates in Africa.

Bus crash

Nineteen people were killed in Egypt last week when their bus collided with a tractor and plunged into a canal.

The series of fatal accidents has now forced the government into re-thinking its traffic strategy.

One observer of Cairo traffic has said the streets in the city are as least as crowded as in New York and London. The difference is that no one respects the law in Cairo.

Two million vehicles compete for space on roads designed for a quarter of that number and drivers make up their own rules to navigate the constant traffic jams.

[ image: Chaos rules on Cairo's streets]
Chaos rules on Cairo's streets
But it is not just Cairo which suffers from traffic chaos. Poorly maintained roads, combined with bad weather and speeding, have killed at least 70 people across the country so far this year.

This will probably rise to 6,000 by the end of the year, according to official statistics.

The grim figures have prompted officials to draft a law that would increase penalties for some traffic offences.

They are also working on new roads and talking about stricter speed limits.

'Laws not enforced'

Critics say the key problem is that traffic laws are not properly enforced, especially when it comes to licence controls.

Currently, people can easily buy a licence without learning to drive.

There are no public inquiries or official resignations, despite a regular repetition of traffic disasters.

One Egyptian commentator contrasted this lax attitude with the vigorous measures taken after Islamic militants killed 58 tourists in 1997.

If the government can put into effect a water-tight security plan to protect tourists it should be able to control the traffic, he wrote.

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