The latest draft of the new traffic law has been given urgent status in the Lower House, and will likely be put up for discussion but seeking an endorsement after the recess. Running a red light will now cost you 250JDs, that’s twice the average monthly minimum wage, which the average Jordanian earns. If you’re driving around in a car with a foreign license, or with foreign plates, you’ll get a nice 150JD fine and between a week and a month in prison.
Last Monday morning, before work, I went down to the Dead Sea in the early morning to pick up my parents, and as you can imagine plenty of cars were also on their way down there. On the long declining road, there is a certain isolated stretch that winds into nearly a 180 degree angle before it launches you into an upwards climb. So cars pick up speed as the road winds in order to make it up the steep climb before everything returns to “normal”. Right at the top of the climb a police officer was waving us all to the side of the road. He stopped around 14 cars. He finally came around to my car, nearly 10 minutes after stopping me, to tell me I was speeding. Now getting past the fact that these radar policeman tend to be positioned in the oddest of places some times, I apologized and didn’t bother offering an excuse. But, out of curiosity I asked him how fast I was going and he said he didn’t know, but I was going faster than the speed limit. So I got out of the car to get my ticket from the head honcho who gets to sit in the police car all day.
The fine was for 50JDs and I was thrown aback. Who the hell keeps 50JDs on them in Jordan where the average income doesn’t seem to exceed 200JDs? I told him I only had a 20 on me and he said he had to take my license away in that case. Now in all my years of driving this is the first time I’ve gotten a speeding ticket, so I figured it was no big deal as 13 other people were handing over their licenses as well; no one had the funds for it.
I was given a ticket and another slip that allowed me to drive without a license for up to a week until I pay the ticket. The ticket said I was going at a speed that “ranges between 80km/h to 120km/h”. I’m guessing I was going more closer than 80, given the fact that anything over 100 on a winding curb would’ve had me going over the mountain. In any case, it was my first ticket, but I knew enough to know you can pay your ticket at one of these radar control cars and be done with it. So I figured I would pray my parents had the 30JDs I needed to complete the transaction on our way back.
That’s exactly what I did 15 minutes later on my way back. I crossed the road to hand the policeman the money and my ticket and he told me he couldn’t give me my license back. I asked ‘why? don’t you have it on you?’, and naturally he said yes, but once they take away your license and write you that slip, the carbon copies have been made and they have to be filed at the station where you have to go and retrieve it.
“Where’s the station?”, I asked. It’s in Madaba. But I live in Amman and I’ve been fined here at the Dead Sea!
So essentially, I had to go home empty handed and then take another trip to Madaba to retrieve my license. But I had a lot of work to do and couldn’t afford to take a day off to go on some personal errand that is literally a waste of my time. And I began to think of all the other people they stopped that day and how everyone would eventually have to take time off work, maybe even suffer a wage deduction, a sick day or a vacation day, to go and wait in line.
My father thankfully volunteered for the task and he went to get my license several hours later. Evidently the licenses had not come in, and he, along with a small crowd, were told to come back tomorrow.
I need my license. I can’t get around without it, and covering the fine is not an issue anymore at this point; I lose more than just 50JDs without my license. But at this point, there’s bureaucracy to deal with. Mis-implementation to endure.
My father went back the next day at noon, more than 24 hours later. Luckily, I had reluctantly pulled some strings in order to make sure that the license was in fact there to pick up and that the policeman (who in my head had went home that day and put the whole pile on his kitchen table until he could find the time to bother submitting them) had in fact delivered them. Despite the pulling of strings, my father, along with some of the other people whose licenses were in the same pile, had to wait for roughly an hour before the policeman was called in to deliver them.
So that’s what it came down to.
Most people don’t have the necessary funds to pay for the new fines and so their licenses are taken away. And when they DO have the money to pay for it, they have to suffer bureaucracy, taking time off work or burdening others to retrieve their license. Imagine: in a world where governments invest money in health care in order to ensure workers don’t take a sick day, we’re still living in a country where inefficiency is actually promoted by the state system.
It’s going to take the government perhaps centuries to realize that solutions to these problems don’t rely on taxing and fining an already impoverished people back to the stone age. A teacher makes 213JDs, so you can imagine what a 50JD fine represents. We still have the lack of comprehensive public policies and despite new laws, and new legislation and new initiatives, they are all, in the end, shoved in to the inefficient machinery of bureaucracy that plagues the suffering ecosystem we call an economy.
Maybe Members of Parliament can debate that.
Meanwhile, these fines are not going to decrease traffic accidents. When the government comes to this conclusion in a few years, perhaps right around the time the next series of tragic accidents happen, they’ll have to come up with a new policy.
My bet is on public beatings.
UPDATE: A reader just emailed me this list which I found interesting. Note that a hit-and-run’s punishment is equivalent to crossing a red light!