Omar Shehata

Seat belts

From "Scenes from Egypt"

One of the strangest things I've encountered in Egypt is the attitude around seat belts. Almost nobody wears them. I used to never wear them until I came to the US.

The first time I came back and put on the seat belt, the driver stopped me and was almost offended, "woah woah! What are you doing? You don't trust my driving??"

Now I no longer care about being made fun of for things like this. I'm going to be safe and wear a seat belt, especially in a country with one of the highest rates of fatal car accidents in the world.

The problem is, a lot of cars no longer have seat belts. Almost every taxi or Uber I took had these raised backseat cushions such that the seat belt was buried underneath.

Recently the government started trying to crack down on this, imposing fines if you are caught driving without a seat belt. Now here's the crazy part: watching drivers pull down the seat belt when they see cops in the area, and just sitting on it, NOT buckling it, to avoid paying the fine. Instead of just...buckling it. !!!

(we shouldn't make fun of this too much though. Americans do this too, except with speeding. Humans in general don't like following rules that they don't understand, which is a good thing! The issue here is that seat belt rules are good & keep us safe. But the lack of trust in institutions makes people distrust these rules)

A lot of newer cars now will beep if you're unbuckled. The solution? You can now buy a "car pacifier" that is a little disconnected buckle that you can connect so it stops beeping... (this is apparently extra dangerous because being buckled in activates the air bag which can be fatal when unbuckled).

I was ranting about this to my dad who told me this story: he hired a car to take him from Alexandria to Cairo, and found one of these cars without a seat belt. He called to complain. The owner explained, "I'm sorry sir, we used to have seat belts but customers kept complaining that they don't like sitting on the buckles in the backseat. So we had to remove them!"

"To be honest, sir, we've had hundreds of customers and you're the only one who's ever complained about this, and frankly, I don't understand why this is a problem!"

Read more Scenes from Egypt.