Morocco: Driving to Civility

Washington / Morocco Board News Service -        There is no better time to talk about Morocco’s new driving code – moudawanat attarik – than between 4 PM and 7 PM while in a city taxi (taxi sghir) in Casablanca. I stood a stone’s throw from La Chope and hailed four or five cabs only to hear an indifferent and laconic “no” when I asked to go to the intersection of Joullane and Abdelkader Assahraoui, not far from “stade Tessima.” Taxis in Casablanca routinely deny customers if they feel the ride would take too long and generate meager revenues. Mind you, I had no particular business there other than I wanted the longest ride possible through the choked arteries of the city to talk about the new driving code.
The code went into effect October 1st. Karim Ghellab, Morocco’s minister of transportation and the architect of the code, put his nose to the grindstone for two years during which he faced staunch disapproval from Moroccan political institutions that had long been fueled by an irrational guild and tenure outlook; his own colleagues within the government as well as his natural political enemies and transportation unions affiliated with opposition political parties derided his initiative. Since 2007, the Workers’ Union of Morocco and the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco staged multiple strikes to soften the code. When it was finally approved in 2009 by the First Chamber of Morocco’s parliament, very few amendments had been introduced. The code remains polemic drawing the ire of most professional drivers and the approbation of the majority of pedestrians and private vehicle owners.

The way I see it, the code has been a long time coming. For years, the staggering statistics of road accidents have put the government in full damage-control mode; with over 4000 deaths a year, thousands of injured, and over 1.37 billion dollars in damages, Moroccan roads are tantamount to an active combat theater where the population ventures, on a daily basis, exposed to constant hazard and grave danger.To put the number of Moroccan road casualties in perspective, in seven years of war in Iraq, the US recorded 4,411 fatalities. In essence, the vehicles barreling down our streets, through our neighborhood where our children, for lack of more adequate places, play, are stray bullets; their drivers are intractably psychotic and harboring an unjustified hatred for their fellow Moroccans.

Finally a taxi accepted to take me. Other people shouted their destinations at the driver, an old wiry man wearing thick glasses, who shook his head in negation. I jumped into the front seat. His use of the horn seemed impulsive. His finger twitched and pressed the horn lever behind the steering wheel. It sounded like the beep-beep of Road Runner in Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner toon. Beep-beep for an old woman waiting to cross the road. Beep-beep for dodging bicycles and scooter fishtailing in traffic. Beep-beep for another car that cut in front of him. Beep-beep for carts pushed against traffic. Beep-beep for… nothing. Around us, the horns are blaring. The air is heavy with smoke spewed by rattling exhaust pipes. The roads are congested.

“which way do you wanna go?” he asked.

“Go up Mohammed VI, Allahykhalik.”

“That road is bursting right now.”

And of course he was right. Mohammed VI, formerly know as “trek Medyouna” (the road to Medyouna), is a nightmare at this time of the day. The taxi jerked with overconfidence from one spot and swerved into an empty spot in a screeching halt oblivious of lanes, priority, proximity or even civility. Beep-beep, jerk, swerve, race, screeching halt. A cycle that the driver repeated with dexterity, rage, and sometimes criminal disregard stopping inches from other vehicles demonstrating superhuman proprioception.

“What do you think about the Moudawana?”

“It’s a “mount anta wana” – you die and I die,” he said. “Look at how the prices of produce spiked because trucks coming from Agadir and other cities can’t carry the tonnage they used to. The “little people” are the ones who’re going to pay.”

The tonnage argument is totally wrong. The new law allows an eight-ton truck to load up to 14 tons of merchandise. This was a convenient excuse producers picked up to increase their profit margin.

“Seven-hundred Dirhams for running a red light,” he continued. “Too much! where’s a poor man gonna get that much money to pay his ticket. Doesn’t he have rent to pay? His kids ‘school to pay? Where’s his family going to eat from? This law won’t be applied on the son of such or such politician or judge. If he runs a red light, the cop who took his license will deliver it back to him at his house and ask him for forgiveness.”

“Nobody should run a red light,” I said.

“I agree with you, but look,” he says pointing at a traffic police officer forlornly standing next to a green metal box. “He has his fingers on the light controls. He’d switch the light from green to red on you so that he can pull you over and take your driver’s license. No pity. It happened to me, I swear.”

We stopped at a red light. On a three lane road, we were five cars at the head of a cortege of thundering jalopies, busses and eighteen wheelers. Horns sounded out insistently even though the light was red. When it turned green, everybody peeled ahead as if we were at the starting line of a Paris-Dakar race. A female driver cut right hard in front of my taxi; the driver slammed on the brakes screaming insults; he dodged another vehicle then passed another one and moved forward.

“See! It’s drivers like this that deserve the Moudawana,” he said. “Most drivers will run out of points in two months,” he opined making reference to the new point system the code introduces.

Mohammed VI looked like an open demolition derby. Pedestrians crossed the road recklessly and throngs of people stood on the road waiting for a white taxi as traffic zoomed by. Assabah newspaper reported that 1200 infractions were recorded in three hours in a busy section of Casablanca. Amid the chaos, disaster looms, but is somehow kept in abeyance. But the drivers are not the only contributing factor to that chaos; our rural and urban roads and sidewalks are neither expensive, nor elaborate. They are cogent evidence of the shameless failure of our leadership for allowing transportation infrastructure to deteriorate.

The implementation of the new code will promote new convictions and best practices. I see it as a hearse for an entrenched superannuated mind-set blinkered by a culture of disregard, pathetic work ethics, and poor social bonds. It will require time and patience as old habits are hard to change, but if Moroccans drive slower or less, respecting the law, not for any other reason than because it is the law, and respecting others sharing the road with them, we are on to a good start.

A. T. B. © 2010

Comments (10)  

man en blanc
0 #1 Casablanca. J e t'aime!man en blanc 2010-10-15 11:24
My brother was driving, because I refuse to drive in my beautiful city. Then an ambulance with its sirens blaring showed up. Hundreds and hundreds cars in every direction were doing the torros and the matadors with each other.
Needless to say, the ambulance was trapped. And I mean Trapped.

I, used to the ways of here, As an emergency vehicle should be giving the utmost courtesy. I looked at my brother with a very concerned inquisitive expression.

He shrugged me away. The ambulance was not allowed to move a meter! not with so much l'Hdid surrounding it. Who cares if someone is dying somewhere waiting for some type of rescue!

My family always laugh at my outrage! Specially when I ask them: why is everyone in a such hurry in Casablanca, that an ambulance is a fair game?
moro yankee
0 #2 let me tell you some thingmoro yankee 2010-10-15 13:03
you act like you know it all , but you don't, moroccans know how to drive in the city regardless of the trafic jams, you need be patient , ps there is no such thing as a good start in morocco, as long as you have 20 dirhams bills , you can drive any where with no citations, period , now can i ask you a question?, how you're gonna teach a herd of..., how to navigate?, you do the math ok.your report is baseless and weak, period
Richard G.
0 #3 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Morocco: Driving to CivilityRichard G. 2010-10-15 13:28
"This is a superbly written post, right on the money. Casablanca in particular is an aggressive horror. I know a petit taxi driver in El Jadida who happily told me there would be a strike over the 700 dirham fine for jumping a red light/pedestria n crossing. I said "well if you're professional and do your job properly, you won't have to worry". Confusion... he couldn't grasp this at all."
0 #4 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Morocco: Driving to CivilityMoroccomama 2010-10-16 19:53
In your penultimate paragraph you hit the nail on the head. As long as the streets and sidewalks are in shambles, it's unfair to enforce such strict measures. The new code is like overlaying a linear, logical system onto the non-linear, organic process of driving in Morocco. Eye contact remains perhaps the single most useful tool in Moroccan driving, whilst in my years of driving in the US, I never once had to make eye contact with another driver or pedestrian.
Another well written article, thanks a lot. And thanks for not giving into cynicism. You offer a hopeful perspective at the end of the article, and we need thinkers, hopers, dreamers in Morocco.
moroccan patriot
0 #5 Well written articlemoroccan patriot 2010-10-16 21:05

I loved the way the article was written. It was very witty and entertaining. I disagree with your conclusion. The reality is that Morocco is an open air prison, where the prison warden (Moroccan Leaders) and the jail house snitches (40 or so large families (rapists and homosexuals) of Morocco) run the jail.

I read a very interesting article in the US recently. It seems that the most ticketed car in the US is the Mercedes Coupe S500. This is easily one of the most expensive cars in the US. In Morocco, if you drive an S500, you can drive on the side walk and get saluted by police. How do I know this? When I drive in Morocco, I drive a very expensive Mercedes, and was surprised to be saluted as I drove down the street by police. Additionally, I have never gotten a ticket while driving my very expensive car. One day, I picked up a rental and to my utter shock, I was pulled over several times, and the police tried to give me a ticket.

Point is, in Morocco, a country governed by Fear, NOT the rule of Law, the new Moudowana will NOT make the streets safer. It will simply put more bribes in the pocket of the criminals who run the Moroccan Police force. It is these Police Commissairs, the ones who have a declared income of only 12000 DH a month, yet own multi million dollar villas... they are the ones who will pocket more money.

The key to fixing Morocco, is changing the Leadership of Morocco from the top. The key is to bring in an army of auditors who are paid and held accountable to European NGOs.
0 #6 Diaries from the red taximorcelli 2010-10-16 22:20
Once I stopped a petit taxi an right when i went to jump in, there was cafe au lait spilled everywhere in the front seat, I asked the taximan " What happened here", He smiled, he did not have the front teeth and said "A client spat on me, I threw my boiling hot coffee mug on his face and drove away". I told him that i cannot sit on a puddle of cafe au lait and wished good luck, and got in in another petit taxi whi lookd like a mobile mosque, Everything in the taxi was so religious from the taximan's beard, to the endless tasbi7, to engraves sourat everywhere, but did like the tajweed tape that he has on, It made me think about all the sins that i have committed in my lifetime.

btw, last time i drove in Morocco was about 22 years ago. too suicidal for me to drive in Casablanca.
0 #7 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Morocco: Driving to CivilityApache 2010-10-18 01:08
4000 deaths a year is figure that speaks very negatively of a nation; from the infrastructure, the driving code and its implementation, to the average Moroccan driver who inexplicably think that the more driving stunts you perform the better the driver you are. Every Moroccan is to blame for the externalities of our transportation system.

This new driving code is a step in the right direction though its not perfect as cleverly stated in one of the posts:

The new code is like overlaying a linear, logical system onto the non-linear,organic process of driving in Morocco
0 #8 Horriblewatchdog 2010-10-18 04:34
More deaths than those who fell in the Palestinian Intifada!!
Ahmed Taibi
0 #9 InsaneAhmed Taibi 2010-10-19 02:20
The most insane aspect of the traffic in Morocco is illegal passenger transportation whose partakers we commonly refer to as "khatafa delblaiss." This phenomenon is not apparent in cities, but it is thriving in rural Morocco. When moudawanat attarik became effective, the gendarmerie dispatched additional personnel to enforce the law and counter illegal passenger transportation. They arrested a few drivers and impounded their illegal "taxies." The disappearance of "khatafa delblaiss" led over 2000 villagers from three large tribes in the region between Fez and Oujda, not able to reach their villages from the different markets in the area, to demonstrate, effectively garroting all vehicular traffic in the area. What do you think the gendarmerie did?
They freed the detained drivers to transport the villagers.
0 #10 you should have given them a rideBelkhir74 2010-10-19 05:14
Mr Ahmed: so what do you suggest? leave poor people in the middle of nowhere with no means to get home.
the whole moudawana is a mess if you ask me. unless you 1) fix the roads 2)have all Moroccans retake the license test 3)fire all top officials from their position and even impprison all of them with no exception 4)throw school programs out of the window and start a NEW SCHOOL PROGRAM for 1st grade and up 5)get rid of RTM tv and that 2M 6)get rid of any government media outlet 7)write a new law in Moroccan darija and amazigh to every Moroccan be in rabat or khemiss zmamra so people can undertand their rights 8)TAX ALL RICH (THIEVES)MOROCC AN 90% OF THEIR WEALTHand use the money to educate people and fix roads and signs.THEN give it time may be 10 or 15 years and reintroduce Moudawana deyal tarik, you might not even need one because people will know their rights and obligations by then.
I was in Morocco for 2 weeks this past summer:all I can say is that it's a freaking jungle, it was sickening. I couldn't drive and taking cabs or even worse

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