Traffic Laws That Fly Under The Efficiency Radar

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!


  • A very good post!

    I have a question, though: don’t you have to earn a certain wage to drive in Amman? I mean, not legally, but when it comes to buying the car, maintaining it, buying petrol (especially now!), car driving is a sort of semi-exclusive “club”.

    And to fine that “club” — in which there are a good number of shiny German cars — the fine needs to be relative to the likely income and availability of funds to a driver. In that, a 50JD fine will “hurt” them, but not take food off their table.

    It’s shocking to say that a 50JD fine would be a massive 25% of a teacher’s wages, but on the same token, what’re the chances of a teacher on those wages being able to afford a car?

    I realize this argument isn’t flawless, but I hope I’ve conveyed the general idea.

    P.S: I think the idea of the tickets being issued on a “ranges between 80km/h to 120km/h” scheme is non-sense. If the Government wants to fine you they should tell you exactly why. I can see a reasonable argument in court being that one wasgoing over 120km/h, therefore the ticket shouldn’t apply. 😛

  • I’m all for the fines for running red lights. I hate it when I see people blatantly run stop lights. And I can’t say that I’m totally against hefty fines for speeding, as long as they can prove that you were speeding! Once people realize the cost for breaking the law, maybe they’ll change their ways.

    But I think the idea of paying for a ticket on the spot is ridiculous. They should issue the ticket with a time frame in which to pay the fine (online or by mail would be nice) or otherwise incur penalties.

    The idea of taking away your license is also just plain stupid. What would have happened if the ticket was issued in Wadi Musa? Would you have to drive 3 hours down just to wait in line to have your license returned?

    So while I support the idea of (finally) enforcing traffic laws, I feel that the enforcement system in place still needs some refinement.

  • publicfacing: you have a valid point, but at the same time, given the number of cars in Jordan I would also argue that the average Jordanian owns a vheicle of some sort. how they obtained such a car, at what price, and if its even licensed is a whole other issue! 😀

    Dave: if I was on a road trip i’d probably have to find a nice 2 star hotel for the night to retrieve my license. otherwise i would need another road trip

  • Talk about bureaucracy if you’ve got timeread this!
    I’ve had the same situation before where i went to pick up my father from the airport and a police car stopped me for speeding and i discovered that i forgot my driving license back home and it was around 2am so the police man had to check that I’m a valid driver and he got my name from the the ID and asked the operator or whatever on his walki-talki and he confirmed that i’m which if i hadn’t he would’ve took me to the police station! then he said he is going to take the car’s driving license because im nt carrying mine
    thats when my father intervened and offered to put the ticket on his driving license and nearly begged the guy to save us the trouble from going to madaba because my father works in the south all week and can’t drive without it
    i took a day off from my job the next day and found out the licenses haven’t arrived
    went on another day and they asked for my license and found out that i have to pay other tickets to clear my license and then i can get it!!!!(pay them in Amman municipality)
    finally my father took a day and made a fight and called a guy he knows then they brought it !!!

  • two days ago i was heading back to amman from Aqaba and a policeman was going to fine me 250JD for driving 134km/h which i was i admit (guess thats 40 over the speed limit) …. after much begging to no avail… i said to him but thats more than i make a month!!! that is when he became humanized again and let me go with 50JD ticket … i think even he realized that the laws are flagrant. he too is corrupt arguably


  • I can imagine how painful and frustrating it is to try and conduct any official business; I’ve had a couple of bad experiences myself the past few days and I can tell what it is like to try and pay a ticket.
    I’m hoping though that the fines set by the new traffic law will decrease the number of accidents because people in general don’t learn how to abide by any law unless they pay a hefty fine.
    What also must be seriously addressed and hopefully applied is pedestrian laws. A large number of people violate traffic laws, cause accidents and only drivers are held responsible.
    Keeping the roads safe is the responsibility for both pedestrians and drivers, it is a shared responsibility and both should be held accountable for any accident that takes place.

  • I’d say it’s fairly hard to get around in Jordan without a car, so even people with low incomes will make it a priority to buy. As to the teacher thing, while I was living in Jordan my host father’s brother, who lived the refugee camp near Irbid and worked as a teacher in a rural school, actually bought a car. One of his nieces wasn’t too happy about that because his income was so low and and he had to help support his mother and sisters on it in addition to paying off his ex-fiance from some marriage he’d been strong-armed into by his older brother and then one of the two had broken off, resulting in her insisting on being given thousands of dinars…and he still bought a car because he worked over an hour from the camp.

  • sarah, i would argue a lot of that is due to a lack of viable public transportation. if it was available, less people would be inclined to buy or drive cars.

  • يا نسيم يا نسيم…إنت قاعد بتنفخ بقربه مخزوقة..الحكومه بتسكر خزق وبتفتح عشر خزوق..
    Take the example of public spending, instead of stopping any new appointments, they create committies that now run for almost one billion dollars. You privatize something so that you don’t manage it anymore, but hey in jordan we create a new committee to overlook the other committee that monitors the privatized resource!

    I still stand by my suggestion to outsource the government, we can get Paul Bremer 😉

  • “I still stand by my suggestion to outsource the government, we can get Paul Bremer”

    because of the bang up job in iraq?

    (pun def. intended)

  • I wonder if they could make the rate of the speeding ticket based on a scale like they do for registration fees? Then the older cars driven by the less fortunate pay less, and the newer cars of the more financially fortunate pay more

  • Public Facing: A lot of people save up years to buy a car, including teachers. I don’t think it is uncommon for people to take loans even on old cars, and you end up upside down on the loan and you’re paying 5000 JD or more for a car that was originally marketed in 1985 and would sell for a couple hundred bucks in Canada or someplace else. We all know people in this situation, don’t we?

    It is so difficult to get around this city, let alone the country, these days without a car. 5 years ago, it was no problem. Today you have to beg and argue and threaten taxi drivers (if they bother to pick you up — if they even drive down the roads where you live). Meanwhile, they’re trying to extort money out of you, and some unlucky women have been physically assaulted or threatened by them. If you ride a bus, it’s so crowded it’s tilting over, or it’s late, or some sweaty guy tries some sexual harassment. If you have kids, it’s double trouble, and if you try to go grocery shopping or buy things for your house? Forget it.

  • Why did you approve gettign teh fine if you and the police pfficer didnt know what was your speed! I once was going to the deadsea and the police man stopped just before the last check point before the Hotel areas. He was about to give me a citation but I aksed what was my speed and when he checked with the officer in the car he said 78 and the speed limit was 80, so the officer with me asked me “why did you stop him then?” The officer standing with me was an honest one.
    The moral of the story, we have to inquire and ask questions before we just accept anything from the officials.

  • It’s like , Break it or straight it .. Can’t they just bend it ?
    and when i say bend it i mean for the good .

  • although the new fines are high, i do support them and i think it will decrease accidents and drivers will be more careful. Jordanian drivers need strict rules and costly tickets in order to learn to drive.

  • – I think the police officer should not have given a ticket if he did not have an exact reading of your speed. You should be able to contest the ticket.

    – Someone today said an interesting thing. It might be possible that they created this rule about paying the ticket on the spot or having your license held so that some people would no longer be able to transfer their tickets using wasta to others.

    – I don’t think 1-5 km/h over the speed limit should be punishable. I think cops should let that go, and the fine should start from 5 km/h over the speed limit and up.

    – I also think the fines are a little bit high.

Your Two Piasters: