Tamer El Mahrouky’s Drive in Your Own Lane campaign is gaining ground with motorists
By Ibrahim El-Shakankiry
Tamer El Mahrouky is fed up, and thinks the rest of us should be as well. The 26-year-old engineering graduate from the German University in Cairo commutes between Dokki and Nasr City, and for the past three years, he has spent a good chunk of almost every day stuck in traffic. One day, El Mahrouky decided enough was enough. In 2012, he started a one-man crusade to teach motorists some manners. But it wasn’t until he walked out into the middle of the 6 October Flyover with a handwritten sign that read “Emshi fe 7artak” — Drive in your own lane — that people really started to take notice.
Pictures of El Mahrouky’s act of frustration went viral on social media, and over the past 18 months his crusade has blossomed into a grassroots campaign to convince people to obey the rules of the road. In an exclusive Egypt Today interview, El Mahrouky talks about where the campaign goes from here. Edited excerpts:
You’d been commuting for three years. What made you finally take action?
There’s no doubt that the amount of time that I spent stuck in traffic made me think of ways to find a solution for it. I noticed that the main reason for traffic jams on the bridge is that people do not drive in their own lanes. The two-lane sections of the bridge tend to have three lanes of cars driving through it, and in the three-lane parts, four lanes of cars drive next to each other. When a car breaks down on the bridge, the whole street ends up jammed because of those not driving in their own lane.
On a two-lane highway, when an ambulance is rushing through, cars driving in their designated lanes should move to the sides of the street, making space for the ambulance to drive through the middle. In Egypt, cars already driving in the middle of the road block this space, forcing the ambulance to be stuck in traffic with the rest of the vehicles.
So how did you start?
When stuck in traffic for a very long time, I would think of different ways to force the people to drive in their own lanes. This idea just happened to pop into my head as I was stuck on the bridge one day. I simply decided that I will personally be the barrier that divides the lanes.
I started the campaign on July 24, 2012, at 4:30 pm. After I got home from work, I made a huge sign reading “Emshi fe 7artak” (drive in your own lane) and took that, along with a traffic cone, to the 6 October Bridge in Ramsis, which is a two-lane section where people usually drive through in three lanes of cars.
I waited until the bridge got crowded, then I stood on top of the lane marker, placed the cone in front of me and raised the sign high in the air. My message was quite clear: “If you were driving in your designated lanes, you wouldn’t be annoyed by me standing in this spot.”Before that big move of standing on the bridge, I had started using the Twitter hashtag “emshi_fe_7artak” to add some tips on how people should drive. Even before that, I started talking to random people in the streets and even on the 6 October Bridge itself.
What did you tell them?
I would go on the bridge and start asking simple questions like, “How many lanes is that bridge divided into?” For your information, 62% of the bridge is divided into two lanes only. Some people would give me the right answer, to which I would reply, “and which lane are you driving in?” Most of those people, however, would tell me, “This doesn’t work here,” or “Which country do you think you’re living in?”
Around 20% of the people I talked to were actually convinced, especially if I played my cards right when it came to their emotions. For example, I would tell a driver that the way he is driving is wrong and that if an ambulance had an emergency and wanted to pass through, he would be the one blocking its way. Then I would ask the driver, “Would you like a member of your family getting stuck here while their life is in danger just because someone else is not driving correctly?”
How did you spread the word about your campaign?
One day, I found someone posted a picture of me with my sign and posted it on Twitter, along with the hashtag. All I did was repost that picture a couple of days later with some advice about driving in your own lane.
The second I posted it, I found it being shared by tens of people, then hundreds, and all of a sudden, thousands of people were talking about the issue. The amount of people who were encouraging me gave me a huge positive boost, which was just what I needed to keep going with my mission.
This was the beginning of my Facebook page, which I created with the help of an old friend of mine, Mona Makhlouf, who designed the campaign logo. The next step was to print out some stickers, which I give out to people for free. However I have only one condition: follow the rules of driving and drive in your designated lane.
Through my circle of friends, along with the people that they knew as well, we started giving out these stickers all over the country — in Cairo, Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh, Tanta and pretty much anywhere we can get to. Sometimes a stranger would contact me and ask me to help distribute the stickers, so I’d send some through the mail.
The first ten times I went down to the streets, I was alone. Then I started creating events and asking people to join me. We would hold up signs asking people to follow the rules, drive in their designated lanes and respect others. At the first event, only three people showed up. Six people showed up to the second event, eight people in the third and no one came to the fourth one.
I’m sure you’ve faced some obstacles, funny comments even, or some that got on your nerves?
Mainly a lot of pessimistic comments that make you feel like you’re doing something extremely difficult. Some people tell me that the country has lots of issues that need to be fixed and not driving in the designated lanes is definitely not one of them. I have a simple answer for those people: “This is the thing I can help solve. If you have a way to solve any other issues then you should go right ahead and do it, but don’t put me down.”
In your opinion, why don’t Egyptian drivers follow the rules of the road?
People in Egypt, unfortunately, have a lack of respect towards other people, and this has been around for a very long time now. Egyptian drivers get in their cars thinking they need to get from destination X to destination Y as fast as possible, regardless of how they do it — whether it’s not driving in their own lanes or following other driving rules that actually keep them safe from harm.
What do you think could make them quickly change their bad driving habits?
Enforce strict rules. If a traffic officer stands on the side and writes down the license number of cars that are not driving in their own lanes and gives them a LE 500 fine, for example, it won’t be long until everyone starts abiding by the rules.
Some people, however, will change the way they drive if you just talk to them about it. Some only need a certain kind of motivation to change. This one time, early in the morning as I was driving to work, I saw this one guy who stopped at a traffic light even though no one was around him– something that not too many Egyptian drivers normally do. Not only that, but he also stopped right before the pedestrian crosswalk.
I immediately got out of my car, gave him the sticker and thanked him for following the rules even though no one was looking. This gave him the positive energy he needed to keep on following the rules.
Do you honestly think that there’s hope in people changing the way they drive in Egypt?
Of course, there’s always hope. If you tell the people that there is a solution to this issue, people will surely want to be a part of the solution. If this issue is actually solved, people would get to their destinations faster. People will surely stop thinking about all the negatives that come with being stuck in traffic, and bit by bit they will be even more patriotic than they are now.
People just need to understand that life is not about their own priorities alone. They’ll finally understand that by respecting others and by taking care of everyone’s rights, we can all live peacefully.
Do you think your campaign will still be around in five years?
Right now the campaign keeps going as long as I have my eye on it. To make it self-sustaining, I am trying to turn it into a student activity program in all Egyptian universities. I’d been trying to approach a lot of universities for quite some time, until one day Amr Ali, a student at the American University in Cairo (AUC), asked me if he can join one of my events. After he learned what the campaign is about, he was really interested in getting other students involved. Next semester at AUC, the Emshi Fi Hartak Club will launch with the sole mission of finding a solution to the road traffic.
Hopefully within five years, the student activity program will be available in at least five different universities, along with several grassroots awareness campaigns. Hopefully, more people will join in, people who love the country and want to help make it a better place. With any luck, traffic in Egypt would have decreased by 20% at the time.
Do you have any advice for people driving in Egypt now?
I’d like for people to put the same effort into driving in the right lane as they do in making sure their car doesn’t get hit. Keep a safe distance of a meter and a half from both sides of your car, only then will you be sure that you are driving in your own lane. Remember, it’s not normal for us to keep bumping our side mirrors into each other. et
Learn more about the Drive in Your Own Lane campaign via:
YouTube (Tamer El Mahrouky): www.youtube.com/user/elmahrouky?feature=watch