Some compare the numbers with the casualties of a war, others calculate the statistics by the minute and even in seconds: in Iran, it is always possible that someone who ventures down a road may never return.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the head of the Iranian government, usually tries to make the matter seem commonplace. In his final interview of the past Iranian year, he spoke of travel, transportation and the safety of domestic vehicles. The head of the Iranian government appeared on the television program “Bon Voyage!” and said: “Safety lies first with the driver, then with the vehicle and finally with the road. A vehicle must be made for the purpose it is being used for. A car that wants to travel at 120 km/h must have the appropriate brakes and engine for this kind of driving: safety belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and the proper inner and outer body material.”
The head of the Iranian government blamed car manufacturers for the problem of road accidents, saying: “When we say a standard product, we mean that it has the necessary specifications for protecting passenger safety. If a factory does not adhere to the necessary standards, if they do not provide air bags and do not have good production quality, even if they have a high production rate, people should not buy from them until they rectify their products. A factory had better make only 100 cars but make good ones, rather than making 200,000 of them without safety considerations.”
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad basically failed to address the situation on the roads and the high rate of road accidents.
Stepping on the Road with No Return
There are various statistics regarding deaths in Iran caused by road accidents, but according to global statistics, Iran has one of the top five highest rates of death from road accidents.
Over the past 20 years, more than half a million people have been killed in road accidents in Iran, and 700,000 people become injured or maimed every year as a result of such accidents. Even though the commander of Iran’s security forces had good news about road safety following the Norooz New Year holidays, announcing a 15-percent decline in accidents, another 12-percent decline in the number of driving casualties and a drop of 20 to 24 percent in the number of driving violations issued, that news was followed by the report by Ahmad Shojai, the head of the Iranian Coroner’s Office, announcing that in the past 10 years, 241,236 people have died in road accidents. The statistics indicate that 35 out of every 100,000 people are killed each year in road accidents.
A report titled “A Decade of Fatal Casualties Due to Driving Accidents in Iran” was presented at the second international gathering for the reduction of traffic accidents. This report indicates that men accounted for 80 percent of Iranian road accident casualties in the past decade, and 20 percent were women. The highest number of deaths recorded in one year was 27,755 in 2005/2006. Most people killed in road accidents, 60.8 percent, have their accidents on intercity roads, with 30.1 percent killed on inner-city roads and 8.1 percent killed on rural dirt roads.
Rally on Busy Roads
It is said that road collisions have three aspects: the driver, the vehicle and the road. Iran has problems with all three.
Iran’s driving accidents have problems both in terms of hardware and software. On the software side, drivers top the list. Due a lack of proper instruction in driving principles, Iranians have a reputation for being dangerous and careless drivers. Their love of speeding with no regard for safety and their lack of respect for traffic rules and regulations would seem to point a finger at the government for failing to promote driver education and a safe-driving culture, but these factors also highlight the failure of individual Iranian drivers to take responsibility for their actions.
Most Iranian drivers do not believe in following driving regulations and consider themselves above them. Driving above the speed limit, a main cause of traffic accidents, is considered a cool and attractive social behaviour. Illegal passing, smoking and eating while driving, zigzagging through traffic, failing to wear seat belts and so forth are some of the common habits of Iranian drivers. Despite various programs to reinforce driving regulations, an increase in the number of traffic tickets issued and the increased presence of police patrols on the roads, most drivers consider irresponsible driving behaviour to be quite ordinary and in some cases even desirable, due to the late and unregulated advent of driver education.
On the Edge of the Cliff
Sahriyar Afandizadeh, a deputy minister and the head of the road and transportation organization of Iran, announced a few months ago that all Iranian roads are built to all necessary standards. However, most experts purport that one of the top reasons for the high number of accidents in Iran is that roads are not built to safety standards.
Iran’s Ministry of Transportation maintains that road accidents on highways have been greatly reduced, and the development of freeways all over the country is one of the main ways of doing that. But it also maintains that all the roads in the country cannot be highways.
There are certain locations on Iranian roads that have a reputation for being accident prone, but recognizing those spots has not led to effective solutions for reducing the hazards they pose. Many development projects are not adequately supervised and fail to adhere to the safety considerations stipulated in the original plans .
Road signs and warning signals remain inadequate, and substandard slopes in the roads create a propensity for cars to roll over.
Changing weather conditions in various parts of the country make road conditions unpredictable. Landslides, rock falls and avalanches often affect road conditions, and emergency services are quite inadequate under such conditions.
During times such as the Norooz holidays, millions of travelers use the roads, but the emergency services are only prepared for about 10 percent of the road accidents that occur.
No Horns, No Seats
One must drive an Iranian car to realize how different they are from foreign-built cars. They often have major problems with the brake, clutch and gear even as they are leaving the factory. The lack of quality control and safety-control supervision at the manufacturing stage are major factors contributing to the high number of road accidents in Iran.
The Standards Institution of Iran rates cars in terms of quality in various categories: the shock absorption system, steering, the engine and power train, brakes, electronic equipment, the interior and exterior appearance, unusual noise from the body, and water and colour penetration. But they are only ranked in two categories, very good and good. No vehicles are deemed to be of medium or low quality because of pressure from the car-manufacturing companies.
Iranian-built vehicles lack the most basic safety features and have no ABS brake system or air bags. Low-quality material used in the manufacturing process also makes them highly susceptible to damage in accidents, and the simplest collisions result in rollovers or fires.
Many Iranian drivers take to the roads even when their cars are faulty in the most basic ways: burnt-out headlights or taillights, unsafe brakes, broken wipers and worn-out tires on the roads that lead to death.
[translated from the original in Persian]