BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Shura Council Tuesday annulled a Cabinet decision that had suspended the implementation of a long-awaited traffic law, putting the road rules into immediate effect, although doubts remained as to whether they could be properly enforced.
The council’s decision came in response to a petition put forward by the Roads for Life association, which has been working to overturn a government decision last year that put Traffic Law 243 on the backburner.
The Shura Council noted that Article 418 of the new bill stipulated that any contradictory old legislation on the subject was no longer valid, clearing the way for its immediate implementation.
But while Kamel Ibrahim, secretary-general of road safety lobbying organization YASA International, praised the Council’s decision, he told The Daily Star that he feared Lebanon lacked the necessary means to properly enforce the law in light of a lack of governmental support and scarce ISF resources.
“The ISF need to be properly equipped,” Ibrahim explained. “The government needs to secure the needed competencies.”
He added that both the government and the ISF needed to work together to organize a campaign to explain the new rules to citizens.
The long-awaited bill to combat road safety violations contains 420 articles and replaces a previous one from 1967. It covers rules relating to general road behavior, trailers, license plates, car maintenance tests, vehicle registration and driving tests, and imposes fines and stricter punishments for violators.
The law also calls for the formation of a National Committee for Road Safety headed by the interior minister and a National Council for Road Safety led by the prime minister, as well as the creation of a road unit within the ISF to work on improving enforcement of the relevant legislation.
According to ISF spokesperson Col. Joseph Moussallem, the new law will “hopefully begin implementation after Eid al-Fitr.”
He acknowledged that a lot of work needed to be done, and that it would be a “gradual process” as the ISF was not yet adequately equipped, but that it would soon begin working on awareness campaigns.
The security body will be given a year to equip itself to enforce the new fines, with the old law being used in the meantime.
Under the new system, drivers begin with 12 points. Violations cost points, with the number lost determined by the gravity of the infraction and the danger it posed. Upon the loss of all points, a driver is stripped of their driving license for six months.
The most severe offenses, which will incur a prison sentence of one month to two years and fines from LL1 million to LL3 million, include exceeding the speed limit by 60 kph, driving without a license, and driving with a blood alcohol level of more than 1 gram per liter of blood.
Under the previous rules, speeding tickets were set at LL50,000, and those who were caught driving without a license simply had to pay a minimal fine.
Zeina Kassem, president of Roads for Life, said the organization had originally filed the petition to Parliament in 2011 to replace the previous law, which she said “did not have standards that ensured the safety of the pedestrian.”
The organization lobbied for it with the help of politicians, which led to it being referred to the joint parliamentary committees. But despite it being published in the Official Gazette in 2012, it was postponed during former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s term after the government claimed that it needed to be studied further.
Kassem said the reform also suffered from anti-lobbying, mostly by truck drivers and used-car owners protesting the stricter regulations that could be imposed on them and their vehicles.
The Interior Ministry has promised the organization that, as a start, it will begin implementation of the law in the Greater Beirut area as soon as possible and will be expanded to other areas as soon as the relevant decrees are completed, she said. No date for the completion of the decrees has yet been specified.
Regardless, the Shura Council’s decision is sure to be seen by many as a victory.
“There are victims dying every day as a result [of the old traffic law],” Kassem said.