Lubnan

NGOs, police aim for safe NYE motoring

Rescuers try to help an injured man out of his car at the site of a car accident. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: For those among you going out for New Year’s Eve, a few precautions should be kept in mind, especially for drivers. After a successful New Year’s Eve in 2013 that saw no recorded drunk-driving accidents, road safety groups are teaming up with the Internal Security Forces to achieve a similar figure this year.

“We are working on changing the behavior of young people,” said Georges Metni, a board member of the road safety non-governmental organization YASA (Youth Association for Social Awareness) and vice president of the Lebanese Association of Sports Injury and Prevention.

Road safety organizations like YASA and Kunhadi are joining efforts with the police force this New Year’s Eve to protect Lebanese from drunk-driving incidents that have plagued the country in recent years. Statistics for drinking and driving in Lebanon are hard to come by as hospitals and police do not record alcohol involvement in such issues, though police may begin to penalize violators in 2015.

In the meantime, this focus campaign is spreading through social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and is aiming to raise awareness about the perils of drinking and driving. They’ve also gone to universities to take part in conferences and lectures to students in light of the fact that young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have a higher tendency to drink and drive.

As Kunhadi’s President Fady Gebrane points out, the effects of alcohol impairs drivers’ depth perception – making drivers believe that a car 1 meter in front of them is actually 3 meters away. Delayed reaction time and increased drowsiness are just some of the other issues faced by those operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

But another issue of concern is that many Lebanese adults may also drink and party on the occasion and even risk driving while drunk.

“It is the responsibility of the person himself or herself,” Metni said. “Young people or [people of] any age should have at least one [of their group] avoid drinking.”

Having a designated driver is often a good strategy to afford a stress-free evening to partygoers. But youngsters often don’t want to be the one left out on a night of fun. Consequently, Metni said the social awareness campaign focuses on “behavior and attitude.”

However, realizing that some groups of youngsters may simply disregard the campaign altogether, Kunhadi has approached a few major nightclubs where the celebratory champagne flows in order to set up a deal.

Kunhadi will provide certain nightclubs with free taxi service for their clients on New Year’s Eve. Others will split the cost with the road safety group. Some nightclubs will also vet employees who can identify drunk patrons trying to drive in order to persuade them to take the complementary taxi service being provided.

While the ISF did not immediately respond to a request for a comment, last year it set up checkpoints to look for drunk drivers and the police will likely repeat the effort this year.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 26, 2014, on page 2.

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