From lorries ramming into smaller cars, to pedestrians suddenly stepping into the road, a journey in Cairo on a busy day can seem like navigating through hell.
To survive on Egypt’s streets, one must abide by an unwritten set of driving laws to which local drivers have accustomed themselves.
Your mission is not only to avoid mistakes, but most importantly watch out for errors by others.
Drivers must firstly avoid messing with big vehicles. Trucks and public buses own the road in Egypt and pay little regard to the smaller vehicles around them. Taxis, microbuses and tuk-tuk drivers must also be avoided as they operate under a whole different set of rules.
And despite it being 2018, don’t be surprised to find yourself stuck behind decrepit carts drawn by horses or donkeys.
Egypt’s roads often lack marked lanes. Even when the tarmac does have markings, it is nearly impossible to stick to them because other drivers force you to pull in to one side so they can perform their suicidal overtaking maneuvers.
In Cairo’s famous traffic jams, there is no room for manners. Drivers who manage to get their car slightly in front of yours will feel entitled to push in.
And then there are Egypt’s infamous U-turns. A disastrous piece of road planning found randomly on highways that are far too small to cope with the volume of traffic trying to use them. A favorite stunt among Egypt’s drivers is for someone to be out in the fourth lane and still attempt to make a U-turn — because why wait in line?
Egypt’s choked streets are notorious for the cacophony of car horns. Each set of honks carries a specific meaning, from swearing at someone to greeting another.
Most serious is the high price Egyptians pay for the chaos on their roads. Official figures say more than 5,000 people were killed in road accidents in 2016.
But these death tolls only count the number of people who died at the site of the accident. The actual toll could be double that when it includes those who died later from their injuries, said Osama Aqeel, a leading Egyptian roads expert.
Even Egypt’s Transport Minister Dr. Hisham Arafat admitted recently that the actual death toll could be as high as 13,000 a year.
The minister has also said that 94 percent of road accidents in Egypt are caused by human error and faulty vehicles, while road conditions amount to only 4 percent, and weather conditions 2 percent.
In 2016, a World Health Organization report placed Egypt among the 10 worst countries worldwide for its fatal roads.
Egypt in 2017 ranked 48th place globally for road traffic deaths, according to the transport minister.
The question of who is responsible for Egypt’s terrible driving, the government or the Egyptian people, has been left hanging for decades.
“’It’s a mutual responsibility between the government and the public,”’ Ibrahim Mabrook, a professor of transport and traffic engineering at Ain Shams University in Cairo, said.
Mabrook said Egypt can improve its road safety by “’engineering better roads, educating the public about road safety, enforcing strict laws, and applying the law equally on all members of society.”’ Aqeel said he finds the government 100 percent responsible for the high road traffic deaths because it is responsible for the entire strategy.
“’Saying that the majority of accidents in Egypt occur because of ‘human error’ is completely inaccurate in my opinion, because traffic regulation is the main factor,”’ he said.
In Egypt, trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians all share the same space on the roads. Aqeel said more than 40 percent of accidents that result in deaths involve trucks.
“’If we create alternative roads for trucks for instance to prevent them from driving with regular cars on major roads, the number of accidents resulting in death will immediately drop.”’
Ahmed Shelbaya, co-founder of the NADA Foundation For Safer Egyptian Roads, said road crashes are the “’number one killer of Egyptian youth.”’
He said the government does not take the road safety crisis seriously enough and that there is a lack of “’intelligent safety laws.”’