When I first received a text message notifying me back in March that new traffic laws would be instituted the next day, the taxi driver I was riding with at the time said, “You better fasten that seatbelt up tomorrow; else you’ll face a 200,000 LL fine.”
I chuckled, “Sure. And they’ll enforce this as well as they enforced the smoking ban, right?” [Granted, the smoking ban was enforced more than I thought it would be.]
I was wrong. Wave a large fee in front of the faces of Lebanese taxi drivers and passengers alike, and we will be quick to enforce anything that could include a large penalty on our tiny wallets!
Quite ironically, the same chauffeurs who complain about Beirut’s unbearable traffic due to disorder and chaos also tend to complain about their chest pains from the seatbelt’s tight grip across their chest and ribs. We learn to complain about chaotic situations, because as we’ve all learned, chaos remains just so. But finally institute a law that attempts to bring in some sort of order – at least to our traffic woes? All of a sudden we are a couple of unhappy campers strapped down tightly in a rusty taxi. And this, on a pathetic, hot, and humid summer’s day.
I take a taxi at least twice a day from home to work. It’s been quite the trip to mentally document how these chauffeurs approach the subject to front-seat passengers, and how well (or not) passengers are convinced to obey the law.
From what I’ve observed, the request to buckle up comes in stages:
1. Approach the passenger passively—and kindly. Most will abide. “Oh! Is that black strap belonging to your bag?” I smile. “It looks just like the seatbelt! Can you do me a favor and please buckle up? It’s up to you completely! But I’d rather save you that 200,000 LL fee.” He smiles.
2. Approach the passenger by lying. It’s the only way you’ll get them to succumb. Most will still abide—though reluctantly. “There was a checkpoint just down the road earlier today! You better buckle up. You don’t want us to be stopped and fined for not buckling up, do you?” This type of approach will elicit a negative response, followed directly by an opportunity to complain about wasta, the country’s corruption, and question the entire purpose of such a large fee for something so pointless.
3. If the passive approach doesn’t work, then this warrants some harsher passive-aggressive treatment. “You know, it’s completely up to you, but that 200,000 LL fine will be on you and not me!”
4. And couple that threat with a real-life scenario. “You know, just the other day, I was sitting on a bench in Sassine Square. In that given hour, I saw the traffic police pull over at least eight to ten cars for its driver and passenger not wearing the required seatbelt! They are really enforcing this, so you better buckle up! I don’t want to have to pay a fee for this, do you?”
I had been completely astonished at the enforcement of the law—not from any given traffic officer —but from the taxi drivers themselves. Then came my turn to complain.
“Hey you in the back! Buckle up, girl!” [Huh? Me?]
I respond: “Do I need to? I don’t even buckle up as a back-seat passenger in the United States! What makes you think I need to here?”
I was astounded by my own response. Here I was chuckling at the complaints from front-seat passengers. And somehow I found myself, Ms. I’m-from-America, questioning why I must do the same.
Granted, as time passes by, I’ve noticed fewer complaints and much more compliant front-seat passengers. I guess all we really needed was just some time – and that strict discipline in the form of a 200,000 LL penalty.
The new transportation rules might be a start to something larger. But do you think any one of our adored politicians would be caught with this 200,000 LL fine?