MATHIU: Police swooping down on soft targets won’t end road carnage - Daily Nation
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Police swooping down on soft targets won’t end road carnage

Friday January 19 2018

A passenger who attempted to escape from police officers after he was caught flouting traffic rules along Thika road is escorted into a police vehicle by NTSA officers.

A passenger who attempted to escape from police officers after he was caught flouting traffic rules along Thika road is escorted into a police vehicle by NTSA officers. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MUTUMA MATHIU
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As soon as he poked me in the chest, I knew we were all going to have a very bad day. If you grab a dog by the tail, it will turn round and bite your hand. It’s instinctive.

He was a young guy, barely out of the mid-20s, but he was outrageously, ridiculously, almost comically rude.

Many cops develop some authority because of the nature of their job. They cultivate the direct, cold stare and a rigid posture. This one was in uniform and that’s all. And I am not just hating on a poor cop; I get along very well with police officers, including the rudest and most vicious.

I had not driven on our roads for nearly two years. So, I was a stranger to NTSA and its many operations on the roads. Also, as a motoring enthusiast, I was very curious about the little car I was taking out for a ride. It was a ‘mosquito’ — a little engine of less than a litre and a half. Was it alive? I wanted to find out.

DRIVING

I was puzzled by the speed at which we were driving. There was a long tail of vehicles behind this strange van with a police flasher on the roof. It looked like a Mercedes Viano but, even from a distance, I could see it wasn’t. Why wasn’t anyone overtaking? We were driving at 20kph. The other lane was so clear I could see all the way to Kuwait. At the back, my children were bored. Worse, I was getting bored.

So I made a mistake.

I tapped the gas on the mosquito to down-shift, floored the pedal and shot out of the queue. Whereas the other lane was clear for kilometres, the line of vehicles was long. Many of the spaces I could see to rejoin my lane were in front of trucks.

The last thing you should do is cut in front of a truck — even if it’s doing 0kph. First, your children will be an arm’s length from 13,000cc of vaporised diesel.

Secondly, their little heads will be only a breath away from the cauldron of a radiator, big enough and hot enough to roast a pig. A cabin bouncing on its shocks can thwack your little car. Thirdly, trucks are heavy. They need some distance to slow down, leave alone stopping.

YELLOW LINE

I also happen to treat with suspicion their brakes. Most tractor heads have no brakes; they are not needed. The braking is done by the trailer axles, which are on drum brakes. On our roads, most trailers are on a relatively primitive hydraulic system, which, I must admit, works reasonably well.

Anyway, my overtaking took longer than expected and, by the time I got back in lane, a solid yellow line separated me from the tail of traffic like a bad conscience.

The van struck at a dangerous, downhill section of the road. It came careening down and pulled to a dead stop in front of another vehicle. Two young cops, a man and a woman, jumped out. The male officer was shouting animatedly, ordering me out with my driving licence, his hands on the handle.

Only a mad man leaves a vehicle with children in the middle of the road. So I looked for a safe place to get off, parked and came out. That did not make the officer happy. He snatched my driving licence and ordered me to follow him to the police station.

UNHAPPY

“Ok, officer,” I said, and that made him even more unhappy. “Could you please identify yourself? Your number is covered, I don’t know who I am dealing with,” I said. He got doubly unhappy. He was in what appeared to be police uniform and was carrying an AK-47 but he had jumped out of what, to me, was an unfamiliar van.

“And does the law allow you to confiscate my driving licence?” I wondered.

By this time, he and his colleague were practically hopping up and down. That’s when he became touchy.

I was taken to a police station, recorded in the OB but not allowed to see what my offence was. My car was ordered detained. My licence and keys were confiscated.

Then I was breathalysed. I looked at this young man, so crooked at such a tender age. I at first resisted but the NTSA technician lied to me that the breathalyser was standard practice for all traffic arrests. So I called a witness so that they would not frame me. My reading, I was mortified to see, was 0.00.

None of the other motorists were put through this.

COOPERATE

What made my ears hiss was not the unfairness of my treatment; folks have been unfair to me before. It was not even the sight of a growing crowd of women and children mixing for hours with criminals in a police station, with an armed policeman towering over them.

It was the fact that none of the vehicles at the station was a truck or bus — the two types most responsible for some of the worst road carnage in our country’s history. The parking was full of mums or dads who had overtaken on a yellow line, having foolishly fallen for what, I think, was a bribe trap.

Which is all very well. But from the moment that man handled me, I was never going to cooperate with him. I was going to insist on my rights. Not that I had any intention of bribing him in the first place. Officer, you have no right to confiscate my property, and you must identify yourself.