Nigerians who break traffic rules to have their heads examined


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The Independent Online

While many people may agree that you would need your head examined to drive in the wrong direction down a one-way street in Nigeria's mega-city Lagos, few expected to see it enshrined in law.

Ignoring road signs in the sprawling lagoon city can already earn you a fine of £100. But now you could be sent for a psychiatric evaluation, too, as the commercial capital of Africa's most populous nation tries to end the practice of wrong-way driving.

Lagos traffic is legendary and locals' efforts to escape it are by turns inspired and terrifying. VIP convoys that thunder along the crumbling spurs of bridges that criss-cross the lagoon often hire traffic police to ride shotgun and clear the way for them.

The city's "go slows" are such a feature of life that entire street markets spring up daily to supply every conceivable need of those stuck in the traffic jam, from the latest bootlegged Nollywood movies to religious self-help books. Gangs of street children lay sand traps in unpaved areas and then charge stranded motorists for the pleasure of being dug out. Motorcycle taxis that swarm all over the city deploy the same horns as big trucks to scare people out of the way.

Most Lagos residents are not intimidated easily though, with taxi drivers often abandoning their fares to berate armed traffic police, who can then respond by letting down the tyres of offenders to stop them from driving off or attempting to run them over. Most drivers in Lagos – knowing that those with money will side-step the law – dismiss the psychiatric evaluations as another layer of bureaucracy to contend with.

Traffic police often solicit bribes from passing cars by asking for "something for the weekend". Motorists who want to contest the fine and trip to the shrink could face an increased levy of £1,000 and still have to do the psychiatric assessment anyway, officials say. The message is straightforward: if you violate one-way rules, "you should have your head examined", Sina Thorpe, from the Lagos state ministry of transportation, told The Wall Street Journal.

The latest effort against motorists who like to drive against the traffic is part of an on-again, off-again effort by the state Governor Babatunde Fashola to spruce up the chaotic and vibrant city. But it's a risky job – the Governor's office revealed earlier this year that 57 street sweepers have been crushed to death by people driving dangerously.

Yet the Lagos laws are still comparatively mild when put alongside draconian legislation in New Zealand, where wrong-way drivers can face a £6,500 fine or a five-year prison sentence.