MOTORING: How to make better use of the driving license

Saturday January 2 2016

A road accident on Uhuru Highway. Right now a

A road accident on Uhuru Highway. Right now a driving licence is much too easy to get, and it makes no distinction between a novice and a veteran, no difference between a driver who has an unblemished record and one who is constantly breaking the law or having minor accidents. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GAVIN BENNETT
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Right now a driving licence is much too easy to get, and it makes no distinction between a novice and a veteran, no difference between a driver who has an unblemished record and one who is constantly

breaking the law or having minor accidents.

Once you’ve got your licence (by fair means or foul) it serves no additional purpose for the rest of your life – other than generating a bit of revenue from renewal fees and giving roadside checks another excuse to collect “rent”.

It makes no contribution at all to the ongoing attitude of its holder.  But that could change, instantly and dramatically, if Kenya adopted and adapted a matrix of ideas from the different “points systems” which many countries use.

The majority impose penalty points when a driver is convicted of an offence;  just one or two points for minor offences, and lots of points for major indiscretions, and if a driver accrues too many points too quickly he risks losing his licence altogether.  We have a vaguer equivalent called “endorsements”.

But what if the system worked the other way round, and rewarded experience and good conduct with plus points, and deducted them for infringements? A system of debits and credits. 

Passing the driving test might load up a licence with, say, four credit points. And each year of clean record (no prosecutions for speeding or illegal U-turns or  a bald tyre etc, and no accidents) would automatically add another point. So a driver who had an impeccable record for 15 years would have a 19-point licence, clearly marked as such, and clearly distinguishing a seasoned driver from a novice or a chronic rule breaker.

Any driver whose points tally fell to zero would automatically forfeit his licence, be banned from driving for a period, and have to retake the test to get some credit points again.

STANDARD DECLARATION

A driver’s points rating could be a standard declaration for motor insurance, linked to surcharges for anyone with fewer than 10 points and progressive discounts for anyone with more than 10.

And all of that could of course be computerised, and available at the roadside if the driving licence itself was evolved from a bulky book into a small and “smart” card.   

Would such a points system not deliver a series of positive messages and constant reminders – that passing the test is not the end of the skills process but only the start; that the one-off acquisition of a licence is not a life-long guarantee; that the status of “qualified driver” has to be not only earned but also maintained; that good conduct and experience are recognised by law and financially rewarded by insurance discounts; that breaking the law carries not only a fine for each offence but a possibly cumulative penalty that could increase insurance costs and even lead to an automatic ban …?

Could such a cascade of messages – so easily, clearly and constantly delivered – finally start to change attitudes and make our roads safer?