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Road safety priorities are wrong

OPINION
By Tania Ngima | July 19th 2016

Last week I was arrested by a traffic police officer in traffic right outside Hurlingham’s Daystar University. As any well-meaning citizen, I acknowledged that I was wrong, apologised and asked her to administer an instant fine.

When I narrated the story to my friends later, they all burst out laughing. One even called my naiveté refreshing.

This is the level to which our confidence in the police force has fallen; to the point that we can predict the result of any interaction with them.

Anyway, when I asked the policewoman to administer an instant fine, she said that they did not have the books and we would need to go to the police station to pay the fine.

So, after confiscating my licence, she got into my car and we proceeded to the police station, via an ATM so I could withdraw the money for the instant fine.

Up until this point, I was happy with how things were going. That was until I got back into the car, only to find the tables turned against me.

The law enforcement officer proceeded to tell me that there were no instant fines, that everything in this regard that had been announced in the media was merely PR, and she would require that I pay bail once we got to the police station.

Now, this is the point at which things started to get messy for me.

It was getting to late afternoon. I had less than 24 hours to a trans-Atlantic flight and I still had about ten errands to run before I left the country.

As the policewoman continued to explain to me just how chaotic and disorganised the next many hours of my life were going to be, from calling someone to bail me out to going to the law courts in order to make my bail payment, it occurred to me that at the current rate, there is no getting rid of the rot in our police force.

In the one-and-a-half hours that it took me to extricate myself out of the traffic mess, all I was wondering was whether extorting citizens was really the best use of the policewoman’s time.

Every day on the roads we observe wanton behaviour, aided by the exact same people that our taxes are responsible for apprehending.

Innocent motorists are harassed at the expense of vehicles that have no right to be on the roads. Public service vehicles are driven carelessly, endangering multiple lives but unfortunately owned by the exact same policemen who are meant to be ensuring their sanity on the roads.

We get forced off the roads by matatus, their newest trick being overlapping with their lights turned off so that the traffic police don’t see them.

The only downside to this is that the drivers of oncoming cars do not see them either, and by the time you realise there is a 29-seater directly in front of you, a head-on collision is imminent.

In situations, the only preferable option is ending up in a ditch on the side of the road. You are lucky if you escape with only minor injuries.
Every day in the media there are reports of fatal accidents caused by human error.

A whole family perishes while driving from their upcountry home, non-roadworthy lorries and trucks stalled on the side of the road become night time death traps.

Reckless driving, speeding, overlapping, overloading – these are the hallmarks of our roads.
And yet, instead of paying attention to these, the cops are so hell-bent on arresting motorists for inane offences and wasting countless collective hours instead of administering instant fines which would free up time to focus on more serious life-threatening felonies.

Both the National Transport and Safety Authority and the police seem oblivious to what role they are meant to play in saving human lives.

With the non-existence of street lights and expensive but white-elephant traffic interventions like yellow boxes and street cameras, citizens have been left at the mercy of those with the most perceived power.

The carnage and rising death count on the roads is enough reason for us to demand that the posturing from the NTSA stops and we actually start to see some statistics to justify the large budgetary allocations coming out of taxpayers' money.

Results go beyond just buying brightly marked vehicles and parking them on the side of the road – that is not a deterrent; it is imply a show of might with no real effect.

With every passing day, with road users getting more and more brazen in their excessive behaviour, and with law enforcement officers preferring to fritter away their time on inconsequential actions instead of making efforts into taming the deaths on the roads, who is looking out for the citizens who have no other recourse?

We can recall a time when there was sanity on our roads, so asking for action is not naïve or impractical, it is simply common sense and creating a system that punishes instead of rewarding greed.

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