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Impunity on Kenyan roads reflects our national thinking

By XN Iraki | Updated Sun, December 18th 2016 at 00:00 GMT +3

The complexity of the car seems to mesmerise us beyond rationality. This is perhaps because many Kenyans grew up in homes without a car. Despite its invention more than 100 years ago, the car is still a mystery to us, more of a status symbol than a means of transport.

Instead of making cars, we prefer to make laws about cars from how not to use phones while driving and other rules including a speed limit of 80km per hour in the 21st century. We tried Nyayo car, we failed, and we hope Mobius will succeed where Nyayo Pioneer failed.

Cars in Kenya get into the news for all bad reasons, accidents. They occasionally get into limelight when new models are launched. Racing like Formula 1 also popularises cars. And what happened to Safari Rally that used to keep us awake during Easter? What happened to racecourses around Nakuru and Gilgil, the langa Langas?

Without making cars, it seems the car has never become part of our cultures and lives. We just need to look at our rules and regulations regarding cars. Though we quickly imported American political ideas through the 2010 Constitution, with positions like governors and senators, we did not import American common sense. A good example is tailgating. Simply put, you should not drive too close behind another car.

The distance gives you room for manoeuvre in case of an emergency. In case of accidents, the effect is likely to be more devastating if the cars are closer together - what happened at Naivasha. I doubt if our traffic laws have anything on tailgating.

An example on tailgating is from Washington State USA laws, “The driver of any motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle when travelling upon a roadway outside of a business or residence district and which is following another motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle shall, whenever conditions permit, leave sufficient space so that an overtaking vehicle may enter and occupy such space without danger, except that this shall not prevent a motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle from overtaking and passing any like vehicle or other vehicle... This provision shall not apply to funeral processions.”

What happens when you leave a space between your car and the next in Kenya? Yet, bumps on the highway encourage tailgating. We did not need a horrific accident to see the need for outlawing tailgating. I’m sure National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) officials have been to USA or schooled there? Even Uhuru Kenyatta was there. They never came across tailgating?

Tailgating is not the only problem. Roads and buildings owners reflect the Kenyan thinking on impunity. The highway from Westlands to around Africa Conference of Churches (ACC), opposite Safaricom House has a frontage road, where you branch off for shopping and other services. That is what common sense is all about.

Drive down from Westlands to Museum Hill. A five star hotel and an office block have all come fronting the highway. The customers to these buildings, and a new and higher one is coming up, block the highway either while exiting or entering the building. Why no frontage road? Is Chiromo Road a street, highway or an avenue?

It become even more confusing, cars from the five star hotel on Chiromo Road cross over the highway to turn right towards Westlands instead of driving all the way to university way or through Muthithi Road. Residents of Riverside just across the 5 star hotel make the wrong turn to avoid driving all the way to Safaricom centre or round to Riverside drive to Nairobi’s CBD because the roundabout at Westlands was closed. Never mind that cars from Thika superhighway are pouring into Chiromo road. Think of the cobweb of roads around Thika Road Mall.

The car design seems ahead of common sense. Think of parking charges. Many Nairobians pay more for parking than for petrol. The behaviour of Kenyans on our roads reflects our national thinking; we do not see the cause effect relationship, what scientific thinking is all about.

We only think about ourselves. Bumps are built to stop Kenyans from crossing the road to visit the toilet, and slow down drivers taking essential drugs to neighbouring countries. Think of our traffic lights or traffic police. What logic do they follow?

Hallmark of civilisation

There is no need of spending time learning how the citizens of a country think, just observe how they drive. More interesting is why we go to driving schools? I never found any such schools in USA. What is more complicated to operate, your smart phone or a car which has only two pedals, break and accelerator and steering wheel? If we do not go to phone school, why do we go to driving school?

When will this thinking change? When will we start thinking more logically, more scientifically, and see the consequences of our decisions and actions. Is that not the hallmark of civilisation, the antithesis of voodoo, witchcraft and occult sciences?


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