Wednesday, May 12, 2010

To drive or not to drive ...

Anyone who has driven in Kabul knows that it can be a nerve-wracking experience. Literally, there seem to be no rules of the road – cars on both sides of the road will drive in any direction while people on foot, bikes, horses, donkeys and push carts will dart in and out of traffic. Cars driving down the road will come to an abrupt halt, stopping to pick up someone on the side of the road and zoom back into the flow again without so much as flick of the blinker. Vendors set up stalls alongside the road, selling fruit, clothes, shoes, sunglasses, phone cards and balloons to anyone and everyone. Stop signs, traffic lights, heck even lane markers are nonexistent. It’s pretty much a free-for all out there and anything goes.

Which is why, one day as we were driving through the city, I had to laugh at the irony of seeing this ‘traffic information’ booth; empty, unkempt and warning drivers to obey traffic rules. I did manage to capture a picture for posterity. I remember thinking, "What traffic rules?"

Despite the lack of road rules here, there are encouraging signs.

A team from my office went on a three-day trip to the Kabul Military Training Center, where the Afghan National Army runs their basic training program and four other advanced training schools. Our goal was to get as many stories as possible during our stay, and one of the schools we covered was the Advanced Combat Training program which covers everything from advanced heavy weapons to reconnaissance and logistics. And of course, driving. After completing basic training, soldiers are selected for one of the advanced schools, depending on their previous skills or experiences. Those with driving experience are often chosen to attend the five week up-armored humvee course, where they learn driving fundamentals and maintenance basics.

During our interviews with the U.S. Army instructors, we learned that the concepts that seem to be the easiest for most people – review and side mirror use, seatbelt use and blinker use - are some of the most difficult for them to learn. They either don’t use them at all (mirrors and seatbelts) or in the case of blinkers; they use them to indicate to drivers behind them it’s ok to pass. Those who do have driving experience have never had to follow any sort of safety precautions designed to protect themselves or others on the road. One of the most common injuries among Afghanistan’s uniformed military and police is vehicle accidents, a combination result of speeding and not wearing seatbelts.

So while the course is helping teach the basics of driving, the instructors are trying to instill safety into the students. Although graduation from the course only guarantees them the right to drive military vehicles and not a civilian license, the instructors are hopeful that the lessons they teach pay off in both worlds. At the very least, they say it feels good knowing they are teaching them something that will save someone’s life.

The Afghan interpreters in my office also tell me that it is required for Afghan citizens to have a driver’s license in order to drive and, that if a driver is pulled over and doesn’t have one, they can be fined. When I ask how often that happens, they laugh. So, I’m guessing, not very often.

But knowing that one the streets will be a little easier to drive is a good start. Now, if I could only peel my fingers off the dashboard …


  1. Glad to see this, SSgt Brown. Be safe.
    Chief Proietti