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How can we tame Kenya's wild, reckless drivers?

Wednesday September 11 2019

driver, road safety, road rage

My observation is that a majority of Kenyan drivers are reckless and inconsiderate. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK 

Baraza JM
By Baraza JM
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Hello Baraza,

My observation is that a majority of Kenyan drivers are reckless and inconsiderate, yet will ask God why he allowed an accident to happen or blame the devil for their own failings. It beats me why the simple act of dimming lights at night for an oncoming vehicle is hard for most drivers, especially those who drive trucks, buses and a slew of personal vehicle owners who have mounted blinding xenon lights.

I must admit you have a great following, and it is my humble request that you create a section that addresses road civility. It beats logic for you to offer someone advice to buy a great car yet that person lacks the civility of handling that car on the road, which then contributes to the accidents we keep reading about every day.

Other observations I have also noted are:

Failing to indicate or indicating just immediately when about to negotiate a corner, not realising that the car behind can ram them.

Treating zebra crossings as a nuisance, especially here in Nairobi. Most drivers accelerate when approaching a zebra crossing but “pretend” to observe when a policeman is around.

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We have allowed motorcyclists to wreak havoc on our roads, and they have since become untameable and a danger to everyone, including themselves, given that they do not care about traffic rules nor regulations.

Those concerned also need to put up clear road signs, especially where there are road bumps. It’s perilous hitting an unmarked road bump at 80km/h especially at night.

Lastly, I’m alarmed by the draft proposal prepared by NTSA to bring sanity on our roads. What I’m reading from it is not how it will make it safer for everyone using a vehicle, but what the government will collect from vehicle owners. I think we try solving a change of consciousness by penalising monetarily. In Tanzania along highways, there are banners written “Fuata sheria bila kushurutishwa”. Whatever they’re doing seems to work well since there are few road accidents being reported.

I know you care about safety, which is why you were invited to that road safety academy in the US, though it was about safety features in vehicles. I’m asking you to use your Nation forum to also educate us about consciously learning to make travelling on our roads safer by first changing our attitudes.

Thank you. Mike.

Hi Mike,

I agree with you that a large proportion of road users lack either sense or courtesy, or both, but I do take exception to your proposal that I assume anybody seeking advice from me is a Neanderthal behind the wheel in desperate need of some unsolicited tuition on how to share the road with others.

That assumption is insulting on a lot of levels: the first being to my inquisitor who, by asking about which car is better than the other, presumably got their licence from a legitimate driving school and was raised by capable parents. By telling them things they probably already know, it comes off as pompous and patronising and may undermine anything else I offer because that will now be received with hostility (“Does he think he is better than us?”).

It may be insulting to the driving school they went to and its instructors, and lastly, it is insulting to my readers because as mentioned earlier, unwanted help or advice broadcast from an ivory tower makes the crier sound pompous, of which I am not, despite appearances. So, no, it does not beat logic that I advise someone to buy a great car then fail to lambast them for being inconsiderate on the road. It is only appropriate that I answer questions as they have been asked. I prefer giving people the benefit of the doubt, despite appearances.

CALLOUS

That said, there has been no shortage on matters road safety, road usage and road courtesy in this column, and would you look at that, here is another! So you and fellow readers are well covered on that end.

Now, the points you bring up are all valid, however:

Failing to indicate is difficult to prove and penalise, and is usually the result of ignorant and callous behaviour on the driver’s part, ignorant because disuse of trafficators is indicative of a lack of formal education (the fellow skipped driving school, and most probably a few other schools along the line as well) and callous because it is very selfish and inconsiderate springing a surprise on other road users and expecting them to react pleasantly.

There are jokes that have been made about this kind of thing, but I never laugh at that idiocy because I have a personal principle that disallows me from responding to non-issues.

Since there aren’t any punitive legal structures (that I know of) in place for those with trafficatorphobia, we can come up with our own socially punitive ones.

SOCIOPATHS

So many people have dashcams on their cars — use these in a name-them-and-shame-them campaign that will put the limelight on these sociopaths to the point their friends and family will get sick of it and tell them, “Just use your indicator lamps, man, you are now embarrassing us.”

Pedestrian crossings, (we don’t call them “zebra” crossings anymore because very few zebras have actually used them and the label carries racist undertones that don’t sit well in these overly politically correct times), are a good place for the authorities to harvest as much money as they can from errant drivers. Many of them have CCTV camera monitoring as well as foot-bound police officers. Anybody who disrespects the Sanctity of the Stripes gets fined, and heavily at that. We will soon see discipline resume.

Driving in Kenya does teach one bad habit that may be difficult to shed once they catch on.

My first time in South Africa was on the eve of my birthday back in 2011, in and around Cape Town. We were test-driving the then-new 3.0 diesel engine in the Jaguar XJ saloon and I was revelling in the perks of my newspaper penmanship, so I may have got lost in some self-congratulatory reveries, which meant I was driving by instinct.

IGNOMINY

The Kenyan driving instinct is to plough into a crowd of people at a pedestrian crossing, forcing them to scamper for safety in two waves of humanity not entirely dissimilar in appearance to the legend of Moses parting the Red Sea. Nobody will think highly of you, but that is about as far as it will go around here.

In South Africa, they look at you like you were born in a kennel and raised in a zoo. They hiss at you, and shake their fists. They probably call you names. That was enough to straighten me out, but the ignominy did not end there: my supervisor calmly asked me if I was sure I knew how to drive. I said yes. He then asked me if the traffic laws in Kenya encourage perpendicular vehicle homicide of the attempted kind, I said no. He then asked me what I thought I was doing driving into a crowd of pedestrians who were crossing the road in plain sight and at a designated area. I wished he would stop with the questions because my ears were burning and the shame I felt was almost driving me to tears, literally.

I had a very subdued birthday that year which I did not enjoy because I could not forgive myself for how stupid I had been. All because of that one incident.

ESCAPE PODS

(And it was that single incident only, in which I have to clarify I did not actually run anyone over. I have continued to enjoy driving all kinds of vehicles in all manner of countries all over the world but I have always been thoughtful and obedient of the prevailing traffic laws in each country.)

The motorcycle menace is a difficult one to tame since they are difficult to catch. Their small size and infinite versatility make them very agile escape pods, and their microscopic registration plates make them almost impossible to track since you cannot read the plate details unless you are next to them and like I said, they are difficult to catch. When caught, the riders tend to abandon the bike and get another one to start this ridiculous game all over again. It is a theatre of the absurd.

Shortened lifespan

Even more ridiculous is the training regime to be a boda-boda rider. You only need to show an ability to start the bike, make it move forward and stay on it longer than 10 seconds without falling off, and your lessons are complete. You are now a “qualified” boda-boda rider with a severely shortened lifespan, and unfortunately, you may shorten the lifespans of several other people due to the high level of incompetence you are unaware you possess.

SHENANIGANS

This one is difficult to control, that means placing the power in the people’s hands. It’s not practical to ask every boda-boda operator for his licence, but you can ask for it from each and every operator you use, be it as a passenger or for a delivery. As a passenger, insist on a safe trip, if not, disembark immediately at the first sign of shenanigans and refuse to pay.

If the rider complains, tell him corpses can neither give nor receive money, so the difference is the same. He still won’t get any money if either or both of you are dead.

On this last one, credit where it is due, road signage has improved greatly of late. It is not perfect, but neither is it the nerve-racking game of Russian roulette it used to be if you ever made the unwise decision to make a road trip by night.

What you refer to is behavioural change, which is the root of the matter, and was part of my training in Baltimore, which you wrongly assume only focused on motor vehicle safety systems.

In fact, those car-based safety measures only formed a small part of the curriculum, it was condensed into an Arlington, Virginia-bound field trip to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), a trip that lasted a single day yet I was in class for several weeks from 8am to 5pm, every day except on weekends. That should tell you the volume of education that I absorbed while there.

INCENTIVISE

And that education is what I am slowly applying. One thing we need to accept is that it is not realistic to effect such far-reaching changes overnight, it is going to take time to see results. I apply what I was taught but I don’t necessarily have to broadcast the fact, nor should people expect me to reprint the lesson plans from Johns Hopkins. Education is meant to be applied, not copy-pasted.

An example of the application is the road safety forum I mentioned some weeks ago, an event I attended as guest speaker at Catholic University of Eastern Africa alongside others.

Another application is the insurance innovation I discussed during the past two weeks. It is of significant interest because it is not just disruption for the sake of public relations that technology can actually be deployed as a handy front-line tool in the quest to improve driving standards in this country.

Effective structures

Lastly, the fines levied for traffic infractions are both punitive and a revenue source for the government. They are not going anywhere any time soon. However, there is also a need to incentivise road courtesy and good driving, and as we speak, several aforementioned entities are hard at work collaborating with my company to come up with effective structures that will reward competent helmsmanship while the authorities focus on punishing ineptitude.

The Nation forum has been, is being, and will be used for the promotion of a change in driver attitude, but you have to understand that is not the sole reason for the existence of this column.

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