Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Motorist's Plea

The situation on Kenya's roads is dire. The situation in urban centres, especially Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru, is in the toilet. It is increasingly apparent that the state of motoring, and motorists, is out of control. It is not normal that not one of the thousands upon thousands of our motoring public is capable of observing the simplest portions of the Highway Code, even when there are Traffic Policemen present. It is downright dangerous for motorists to flout the rules in complete disregard of other road users, speeding dangerously and driving while under the influence of alcohol, narcotic drugs or other substances.

Many jurisdictions require that motorists undergo not just the initial training and testing to obtain a driving license, but periodic refresher training. Some have gone so far as to ensure that the period when a probationary license may be issued could be as long as 2 years. The penalties for traffic offences are usually stiff, ensuring that traffic offenders understand that driving is a privilege and not a right. In Kenya, however, once a person obtains a driving license, it seems that the state washes its hands of him, save for when a horrific road traffic accident occurs and there is injury or death. Traffic policemen play the role of nannies, keeping everyone on a relative long leash, allowing for all sorts of shenanigans on our roads. The rising death doll shows that the policy that has been implemented over the past twenty-five years has not been in the interests of the people.

President Kibaki's government has made great strides in modernising our road network, building 'superhighways' and retrofitting many dilapidated ones. It is time that we turned our attention to the quality of drivers and driving in Kenya too. Kenya Power successfully promoted an amendment to the Energy Act by increasing the penalties for sabotaging and vandalising power lines, including the creation of a new economic sabotage crime. It is time that the Traffic Act was reviewed to enhance the penalties levied against traffic offenders, including instituting a system of bans for drivers convicted of certain traffic offences and the revocation of operating licenses of public service vehicles, or the companies' operating licenses, for committing especially egregious traffic offences, especially the ones that lead to grievous bodily harm or death.

It is also imperative that provisions be made to cater for the non-driving road users. Time and again traffic accidents are caused because pedestrians are to be found walking in the road rather than the pavement because these have been commandeered by hawkers and sundry other businesses. It is also not uncommon to see pedestrians walking in main roads simply because the state of the footpaths that should be provided for them is deplorable. During the rainy seasons, it is not uncommon for pedestrians to avoid the footpaths along main roads simply because they are too muddy to be navigated safely or without ruining their shoes and clothes. The state of surface drainage has contributed significantly to force pedestrians onto roads where they should not be at all. The chaos resulting from the combination of foot and vehicular traffic has resulted in a state of near paralysis, especially in urban areas, leading to thousands of man hours lost in traffic jams and, obviously, thousands of pedestrian deaths.

With the coming of County Governments, it is still unclear what municipal authorities will do. What is clear that such local government concerns must be addressed with a professional perspective. Nairobi, for instance, is monumentally unfriendly to pedestrians, and spectacularly unfair to drivers. The free rein that PSVs are allowed, and the callous treatment of pedestrians, contribute significantly to the problems experienced by road users in the city. The economic cost has been estimated at the billions annually. The City Council has failed in its primary mandate to provide safe and efficient services to the residents of the city, especially its drivers and pedestrians. The state of public transport is a grave embarrassment for a city that aims to be a world city. Its policies are held hostage to the whims and caprices of an often semi-literate, unprofessional gang of councillors, more interested in making a quick shilling than ameliorating the suffering of their constituents. Perhaps the County Government of Nairobi City will make a better fist of things, ensuring that the provision of services, especially road services, meets not only the needs of the residents but ensures safety, security and efficiency.

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