Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghans Steer Dangerous Course

Traffic congestion and rising accident rates have prompted the authorities to take action.
By Wahidullah Amani

Afghanistan wants to drive illegal cars and irresponsible drivers off the streets.

Trouble is, people have become so accustomed to flouting traffic laws over the last two decades of conflict and chaos, it’s proving a difficult task.

For starters, there’s an estimated 30,000 right-hand drive, mostly imported vehicles, which in a country that drives on the right hand side of the road is not only illegal but also downright dangerous.

And there are many cars that do not have number plates, lights, rear-view mirrors or, in some cases, even doors and windscreens.

But now with traffic congestion and accident rates on the increase, the authorities have decided to act.

Habibullah, a Kabul driver, admitted his right-hand drive car contravenes traffic regulations. “But my motor is not the only one which has this problem. In fact, most of the newly imported cars in Afghanistan have this trouble,” he protested.

Sayed, another local driver, also accepts that he’s in the wrong, but says he hasn’t had much trouble from the police. “I don’t have a rear-view mirror or sidelights. The police have stopped me once – and unless they stop me again I’ve no intention of doing anything about it,” he said.

Afghanistan’s traffic laws date back to 1981 and were originally drafted to international standards.

But many of the right-hand drive vehicles came in during the chaos of the Taleban era – and there’s so many of them now that the government is reluctant to crackdown too hard on their owners.

“These vehicles contravene traffic laws, but we are giving them number plates at the moment - this might change in future, though,” Abdul Shukoor Khairkhwa, president of the Afghan traffic department, told IWPR

There will be no leniency, however, for drivers without plates. They will be ordered to buy them. But as they cost 2.8 million afghani (700 US dollars) - a very high price for motoring in a country with some of the world’s poorest roads - it’s questionable whether many car owners will be able to afford them.

Many motorists - especially those who started driving during the five years of Taleban rule - have had no driving lessons. They will be compelled to take a test along with new drivers who, after health clearance from a doctor, are to be offered a seven-day course teaching them the rules and laws of driving.

“There are a lot of drivers who’ve had little or know driving instruction. They are causing a lot of traffic incidents. People without permits are messengers of death to their compatriots,” Sardar Mohammad, president of the license section of the traffic department, told IWPR.

Wahidullah Amani is a Kabul-based freelance journalist.

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