TEHRAN: Some 700 people were killed over the Persian new year on roads in Iran, which are among the deadliest in the world despite Islamic leaders declaring bad driving a sin.
The two-week break for Nowruz that ended at the weekend actually saw a 12-percent improvement on last year’s death toll, police chief Taghi Mehri said on Tuesday.
But the horrific loss of life — with more than half a million killed over the past two decades — has led religious leaders to step in.
“Violating traffic laws is a sin, and following these rules is a religious duty,” said Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi last week.
He was repeating a declaration he made in 2014, when he said: “Driving while tired and sleepy, illegally passing other cars and running red lights are haram (forbidden).”
Iran is almost alone among middle-income countries when it comes to the scale of its road deaths.
The World Health Organization places it in the top 10 alongside extremely poor African countries such as Libya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic where drivers must contend with terrible roads and armed militants.
The only other middle-income country in the top 10 is Thailand, though three-quarters of that country’s road deaths involve motorcycles which are much less prevalent in Iran.
The reasons are unclear, though the highly aggressive nature of Iranian driving and poor quality of locally made cars are clearly factors.
Police fight a desperate battle to keep drivers in line, with officers impounding 32,000 cars and 20,000 motorbikes for violations in the first three days of Nowruz alone.
“Unfortunately, every 71 minutes, one person dies on the country’s roads due to accidents,” deputy police chief Eskandar Momeni said, quoted by Tasnim news agency.
“The figure for last year was one in every 60 minutes, so there has been an improvement.
“But we should know that even the death of one person on the roads is shocking and we should all try to stop it.”