Over the past months in Northern Cyprus we have seen reports of horrific traffic accidents resulting in deaths and grief for the families and friends for those that lost their lives.
As expatriates living in North Cyprus we perhaps read about these cases and think our standard of driving is better than the locals but living in a mainly English and Turkish language society, it is really very difficult for us to fully understand what has happened and more importantly what is being done to educate local drivers in all aspects of road safety.
History of Road Safety in Northern Cyprus
We met with Dr Mehmet Avci who is the President of TKÖD, the Trafik Kazalarını Önleme Derneĝi (Road Traffic Accidents Prevention Association) that was founded in 1987 by a group who observed that the road traffic accidents were increasing over time and they became aware of the need to take urgent measures to deal with this problem.
Since those early days the TKOD association, coordinating the work on the scientific fact that road traffic accidents can be reduced by focusing on four main points, also held many national and international issues related to Education, Infrastructure, Codes and Supervision together with Emergency Medical Intervention.
During its efforts related to domestic traffic, the TKOD, conscious of the importance of delivering their services to the public, they exchange all kinds of ideas with Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, General Directorate of Police, Civil Defence Organisation, Bureau of Public Roads, City Planning Department, Environmental Protection Agency, all Municipalities and Civil Society Organizations.
The scope of the work carried out by TKOD is huge and more can be read by clicking here.
KKTCELL Traffic Education Park, Lefkosa
Together with John Snowby, I visited the TRNC TKOD Traffic Accident Prevention Association training park in Lefkosa which was opened in 2010. We met with Traffic Trainer, Nesil Garanti Özön, and her two colleagues who receive coach parties of school children from the state schools from Monday to Friday during which time they give them training in road safety.
It was surprising to learn that from the age of 8, all children from the state schools in Northern Cyprus are taken to the training centre for training and then they come back for further refresher lessons for the next 2 years.
TKOD Trainers left to right: Nesil Garanti Özön, Meryem Kayral and Vedia Ateş.
When the children arrive they are taken into a classroom to start their training with a briefing and from here they go into another building where through the use of road safety slideshows they are encouraged to interact and answer questions and also talk about the road safety scenes they are watching
The training centre consists of 4 building complexes around which there are road and pedestrian tracks which have all of the internationally recognised road signs, traffic lights, zebra crossings and, as the children leave the road safety slideshows building, new trainers meet the children and one trainer will supervise half of the class whilst they drive electric carts around the tracks whilst another trainer supervises the other children who act as pedestrians whilst they interact with the carts driven by the other half of the class. Having completed this exercise the pedestrian children become the drivers and the drivers become pedestrians for another interaction exercise.
The centre also receives children from private schools and along with other handout material they have an English language leaflet for child guidance.
The centre also gives theory training to ambulance drivers and the trainers also visit the state prison from time to time to talk and give theory tuition to prisoners who have been convicted of serious road safety offences.
“As a former Traffic Police officer it is second nature to look at driving in the TRNC through a particular coloured pair of spectacles. My role in the traffic department included overseeing serious and fatal accidents ensuring all elements are scrutinised in detail and any evidential value is considered in the final decision. I read and witness almost on a daily basis driving that leaves a lot to be desired – careless, reckless and downright dangerous possibly borne out of inexperience, powerful vehicles and it could be argued an almost cultural obsession with overtaking. (only to turn left at the next junction…yes I know very frustrating for some).
Be advised I’ve seen (and still do) identical behaviour in the UK and some of you may recall the boy racers. During their heyday they were a major drain on police resources racing on the highway… burnouts…big engines in small cars…insurance ????…that said there were some who took pride in their vehicles and behaved responsibly…You may recall the state of drink driving in years gone by…seatbelts…mobile phone use – time, .legislation and enforcement have made a difference and it’s almost anti social to drink and drive…. I would argue fear of being caught is a critical factor. I am avoiding drugs as that’s another ball game.
The TRNC has it all, crazy driving and overtaking, mobile phone use, non seat belt use etc. Yes, I have seen it all before and I hear cries of education, enforcement and it’s dangerous to drive here. The TRNC is not unique and I’ve been fortunate to have travelled across the world to China…unbelievable, Singapore with 5 lanes of traffic and motorcycles like mosquitoes and undertaking is a way of life. The US, wow, just don’t get out of the car!!!…be polite…the UK – see above.
Perhaps the TRNC vehicle phenomenon and the resultant driving standards can in some way be attributed to the property boom!…One day if anyone owned a car it was a clapped out Renault. I recall in 2005 telling my colleagues in the job (cop shop expression) who had this idea that everyone rode camels or at best donkeys. I advised them that if you were in an accident it would probably be a BMW or a Merc….some exaggeration I agree, but you get my drift.
All of a sudden farmers became property developers and bought the family car, plus for the son and daughter too. The roads, driver training, experience, all were in short supply! The police enforcement some would argue was lacking but I would ask? Did they receive training?…who could train them. Accident investigation in the UK is exceptional…I’ve sent (asked my staff to send) vehicle components to the manufacturer to enquire as to why they failed. I had a specialist accident investigation unit to support my enquiry, the country’s top specialist in momentum calculations….the TRNC…some day I’m sure!!
I was lucky enough to be invited to see at first-hand what the TRNC is doing about road safety and children. The TKOD is an educational unit specifically set up to educate the youngsters about the hazards associated with road use. The staff are very enthusiastic and take pride in their work. I looked in on one of the many classes and I have to say the children were absorbed in the subject and readily put their hands up to answer the questions. In the UK we had in my force area, a school liaison officer who as you may guess touches on the dangers out there, of stranger awareness, road safety, crime prevention and in some cases community projects.
What I saw in the TKOD was a more intense approach..they have a route marked out in an enclosed area reminiscent of the school yard …there were traffic lights…give way signs, a selection of road signs and to top it all electric vehicles the children could use to practice their new found awareness and driving skills…oh and they had seatbelts!!!… I was left with the impression of a very well organised, focused and effective programme that was enjoyable meaningful and a delight to witness.
Yes better than the UK!!!
So what happens when they grow up and drive a car? A good question and perhaps a mix of testing of skills, awareness, enforcement, improved road conditions and effective legislation may help.”
Like any country, the road users in Northern Cyprus are perhaps no better or no worse than road users we encounter in the UK but the population in a very short period of years has moved from driving many old vehicles lacking in power to driving good quality newer vehicles.
Many of them are very powerful and coupled with all of the trappings of a better living standard and way of life, the drivers need to refocus on simple things like seat belts and ensuring children wear them and adopt the Clunk Click campaign that was so successful in the UK many years ago to the point where anybody entering a vehicle would do it without thinking.
The other pressing need is to educate road users in the use of mobile phones and we were surprised to learn that it is illegal for a driver to use a mobile phone that is blue tooth connected whilst driving even in hands free mode in the TRNC
Have we aimed for that level of safety awareness in the UK and Europe?
Visitors and residents alike in Northern Cyprus are shocked at some of the bad and dangerous driving that they see and this has to be addressed by the police but if they are not present it’s not possible.
With people now carrying one or more phones that will take photographs perhaps they should take photos of bad driving if they are able and report the incident to the police just like they would if they saw people breaking into properties or attacking other people.
It is for the Police to administer the laws relating to road safety standards but they can only do so with the full cooperation of all communities.
In the final analysis I can only reflect on a visit I made recently to a house in the village of Ozanköy to see the distribution of donated wheelchairs and I was shocked when I arrived at the home of Fatma Akyulaf and we took the wheelchair into the bedroom where her 40 year old daughter Zuhre Akyulaf was laying in the bed and I was shocked to learn she had been run over by a vehicle when she was around 17 years of age. She suffered a broken leg and many other injuries including brain damage and was not expected to survive but she did and has been bed-bound for the last 23 years and cared for by her mother.
We hear of many cases of people being killed in road accidents but a case like this really brings home to you the other horror of what a driver not in full control of a vehicle can do.
Fatma Akyulaf and her 40 year old daughter Zuhre Akyulaf who was the victim of a TRNC road accident at the age or 17 years and has been bed-bound ever since and reliant on her mother for care and support.