COMMENT

A modern death cult

For a people so much in love with life, it is astonishing to see how keenly the Greeks court death - and nowhere is this more evident than in the way they drive. Even though billions have been spent on road and other infrastructure projects since Greece joined the European Union in 1981, such is the quality of our roads and so great our recklessness that our country is still the EU's leader in road deaths. Our roads are the stage on which we strut and display every personal and collective weakness to the deadliest effect. It is difficult to judge who shoulders the greatest part of the blame: the state which allows its citizens to drive on roads that are inadequate for today's demands? The police and other authorities who do not rein in dangerous drivers? The drivers themselves who pay no heed to the hazards on the road, who break the law and jeopardize their lives and those of others? The indifference to basic safety rules and the lack of common sense can be seen at every level, from the motorcycle rider who does not wear a helmet to the construction company engineers who build defective roads (and the government inspectors who let this happen). Provincial and local governments, and the Public Works Ministry - all part of the dizzying number of agencies involved in maintaining the road network - allow roads and signs to fall into a deadly state of disrepair. Above all hangs the specter of corruption - from the driving license examiners who take bribes to the politicians who are in bed with construction companies, awarding them lucrative contracts without holding them liable for the shortcomings in the roads they build. The greatest responsibility of the police lies in the very arbitrary nature of their law enforcement. Drivers are genuinely surprised and outraged when they are pulled over and fined because they do not live in a world in which traffic violations are sure to be punished. They see everyone else getting away with murder. They also try to argue their way out of a penalty, because they believe that in our «anything goes» culture they may just get away with it - and often they do get away with only a warning, which further increases the sense that they need not abide by the law. Whether they are short-staffed, soft-hearted or indifferent, the police betray the public when they allow dangerous individuals to behave with impunity. But the greatest culprits on Greek roads are the drivers themselves. Too many do not follow the cardinal rule of driving as fast as conditions and their skills allow. Given the fact that roads are bad, signs inadequate and other drivers are out to kill, it is unforgivable for anyone holding a steering wheel not to ensure that their driving does not place them, their passengers or others in danger. We tolerate recklessness and anarchy, seeing them not as mortal dangers but as a way for our own violations to go unpunished. We expect others to protect us when we make no effort to do so ourselves. We speed unthinking past the sad little shrines to the dead that line our roads and highways, as if they mourn for others, not for us.

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