Will Freedom From Qaddafi Make Libyans Better Drivers?

The blessings of freedom are many; but could one of them be making people better drivers? The people of Libya may soon find out.

A recently released Wikileaks cable, originally classified in November 2009, details the various the horrors of driving in Libya, where road accidents are the third leading cause of death. The cable’s anonymous U.S. diplomat author quotes a local as wondering why many Libyans exhibit “criminal behavior” as soon as they get behind the wheel.

The cable’s author twice quotes one rather interesting theory: that a lack of political freedom is basically turning people into carbon copies of Nick Cage from Drive Angry 3D.The author writes, “Some attribute Libyans’ atrocious driving habits to the stifling political climate, with limited personal freedoms leading many to drive with little regard for others.”

The cable does take into account various other possible factors, including lack of road safety education, poor vehicle standards and a shoddy system for granting licenses.

However, he’s clearly rather taken with the freedom angle. This is from the document’s conclusion:

A daily topic of discussion among expatriates and Libyans alike is the appalling manner in which most people here drive. One theory is that Libyans enjoy so few personal freedoms that driving their own cars with little regard for other drivers is something the regime permits as a sort of pressure valve. Most people shun the use of seatbelts, which they deem too constricting and uncomfortable. In a country with
no discotheques, theaters, bars, and only one small shopping mall, young people have nowhere to go and nothing to do other than drive around in their parents’ cars.

So, will an uptick in democratic rights (although possibly not a rise in discotheques) mean a corresponding surge in defensive driving? In the months and years ahead the whole country will take this theory for a test run.