Cyprus & World News

COLUMN: We are not hot-wired to drive like wildebeest

08 July, 2018

By Charlie Charalambous

Are Cypriots innately bad drivers or simply a product of their environment – this is an age-old nature versus nurture argument.

Over the generations have Cypriots inherited a specific gene that makes them drive like wildebeest on heat or park like an elephant shot down with a tranquiliser gun?

Are we predisposed to speed down a one-way street knocking down pedestrians because that’s the way our DNA is wired?

Or would it be more reasonable to suggest that we have let the rules of engagement slide beyond tolerance.

We have adopted so many bad driving habits that we can no longer tell the difference between the highway code and highway robbery.

Cypriots didn’t become road offenders overnight but slowly mirrored the couldn’t-care-less attitude that permeates a society ready to rule with an iron glove behind the wheel.

Even those drivers minded to stop at a red light, indicate before moving or respect the right of way are almost press-ganged into disobedience.

Those wanting to drive in a straight line at normal speeds will eventually be shunted off the road by the hordes of selfish and reckless drivers that dominate our highways and byways.

It usually takes a tragedy for people to stop and think about road safety and the senseless loss of life claimed by traffic accidents.

There was much soul searching about the carnage on Cyprus roads after a five-year-old girl and a father-of-two were killed in separate incidents within a matter of hours.

It suddenly brought home that the island’s roads were becoming a free-for-all where dangerous disregard puts others at risk.

Whether the roads are becoming worse or our tolerance levels for maverick behaviour is diminishing is a moot point.

More telling is the 13-year wait to get traffic cameras reinstalled on our roads.

They were taken offline due to fears of unreliability over privacy data being hacked.

Legal wrangling, technicalities and bureaucratic minefields have made a mockery of the process to bring them back.

Road accidents have claimed the lives of 28 people so far this year while speed cameras are known to effectively bring down the rate of car crashes and improve traffic flow.

Therefore, it is baffling that the government has failed to get its act together to reintroduce a system that the police have been crying out for.

As there are unlikely to be any cameras going online until after 2019 at best, the police have decided to deploy an extra 100 traffic cops.

They will focus on the traffic blackspots – said to be worse in Limassol and Paphos - and tourist areas while the government will also introduce road safety awareness lessons at high schools.

And this is a good place to start because the situation will not change for the better unless we recalibrate our attitudes at the wheel.

We must all become more road safety conscious and take other drivers into consideration while becoming less tolerant of bad behaviour.

Stiffer penalties don’t work if people think they are not going to be caught.

This explains why so many drivers are happy to run a red light, zoom past while pedestrians are crossing and play the piano on their mobile phone when on the motorway.

Now we are going backwards as a society in terms of adopting good habits at the wheel – tackling any roundabout will tell you that.

But saving lives starts with little things like clamping down on teenagers riding scooters without lights or helmets, checking that kids aren’t driving without a license and reminding drivers that drink-driving is a killer.

What should encourage us to redouble our efforts is recent EU statistics that showed Cyprus had the bloc's biggest increase (15%) in road deaths last year.

As a result, Cyprus ranks 19th in the EU for road deaths in proportion to the population, while in 2016 it was ranked 13th.

Nevertheless, most EU states are struggling to cut road deaths by half until 2020, with only Greece and Estonia currently on target.

Be prepared for a long drive ahead.