A tribal fine over 21,000 US dollars for drivers who kill residents on roads in Logar has helped reduce traffic accidents in the province and nurture a culture of safer driving. But some taxi owners aren't playing
Local residents have taken traffic safety into their own hands in Logar, issuing fines of over $20,000 to drivers who kill people on roads. (Photos: Faridullah Ahmadzai)
“Ever since I hit the young boy and killed him, I am driving very cautiously,” says Bismullah, a taxi driver in Paktia, who hit a child at high speed on the Kabul-Gardez Highway last year. The child died on impact and the driver from Paktia, besides the 1,700 US dollar bribe payable to the traffic authorities, was forced to pay approximately 21,000 USD to a commission of tribal elders.
High price of life on Logar's roads
According to the data from the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA), traffic accidents nearly doubled in urban centres from 2008 to 2011, with more than a 30 per cent increase in traffic accidents on provincial roads. Six years ago a group of tribal elders in Logar Province passed a non-legally binding resolution to fine drivers who kill local residents on the road, a sum equal to 1,200,000 afghani, approximately 21,000 US dollars.
The community fine has engendered greater traffic awareness in drivers and even helped reduce the number of casualties on roads, says a resident on the Kabul-Gardez Highway. “Every month, three or four people were losing their lives in car accidents and most of the accidents occurred because of the carelessness of drivers,” says Dell Agha, a resident of Khowhai district. The local initiative has acted as a deterrent because “drivers are cautious ever since we passed this resolution,” says Mohammah Ajaan, from Pul-e Alam, the capital of Logar Province. Ajaan says many of the people killed on Logar's roads are vulnerable children and elders who mainly travel by bike.
Taxi operators say rather than slow down, they now avoid driving through Logar altogether. Others have even changed the routes they work on. One taxi owner says he now takes passengers from Gardez to Khost instead of Kabul to Gardez “because of the fear of hitting someone in Logar province,” which is situated inbetween the Afghan capital and the eastern province of Paktia.
"Kids also drive cars"
A traffic official in Pul-i-Alam, Logar Province.
Fewer cars means reduced trade activity on Logar's roads, yet local residents welcome the decrease in circulation. “Because of this resolution the number of traffic accidents has reduced,” says Haji Gullbut, adding that the tribal sanction has “assisted police” and “helped drivers to obey traffic rules.”
Traffic authorities in Logar say drivers of all ages speed on the province's roads with little regard for traffic safety, road regulations or even a driving licence. “There are people over 70 years of age who drive vehicles,” says Sayed Gull Mohammad, head of Logar's provincial traffic police department. “Kids also drive cars, and this is why traffic accidents occur.” Mohammad says now drivers “fear the fine and punishment” and therefore drive with “caution and care.”
Deen Mohammad Darwish, a spokesman for the Logar governor, confirms that that number of traffic incidents has dropped because road users in Logar are scared to pay the hefty fines. Darwish says the government supports the fine, known locally as nagha, because it is a decision for respected tribal elders, although the spokesman questions the morality of extracting a price for a dead body. “From an Islamic point of view this is not a good idea to take money from a driver, because it is like selling the body of the person killed,” says Darwish. He says many drivers are poor and have been forced “to sell their other goods or properties” to pay the hefty fines.
Driven to despair
Some drivers are taking the law into their own hands when fined. Gull Alam a taxi driver who takes passengers between Kabul and Khost, hit an elderly man in the Pul-e-Kandahari area of Logar province and was fined 1,200,000 afghani (approx 21,000 US dollars) last year. Alam says he dug up the body and took it back to Khost as leverage to recuperate his fine.
“They buried the elderly man and I went to the graveyard, excavated the body of and took it with me to Khost,” says Alam. The driver says he then negotiated with the family of the elder: “Tribal elders then came and begged me to hand them the body. I told them that I am not going to give the body because I paid for the body. Finally I handed over the body when they agreed to refund my money.”