State Of Affairs

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So, fuel prices have gone down over the past few days; and not just by indiscernible cents and decimals, but by a sizeable percentage. From highs of Ksh. 120, premium is currently hitting lows of Ksh. 90… that is an approximate 25% decrease limit-to-limit, 20% from some quarters, fairly accurate as of the time of writing. Anything could have happened between now (as I write this) and when you read.

With reduced pump prices come euphoria and the re-discovery of hitherto disregarded and/or otherwise avoided privileges; privileges such as private and convenient mobility. Driving your car is no longer an end-month festivity – for those fall into the same tax bracket that I do; it can now be at least a weekly occurrence, if not a daily one – for those within this bracket who have cars with sub-1300cc engines. Alongside the silver lining that is this newly reacquired privilege comes the rain-bearing cloud: increased traffic density. Increased traffic density means perennial gridlock problems; and gridlock means wasted time, an upsurge in national levels of frustration and the possibility of this frustration being vented as road rage and/or bad behavior. A more certain outcome will be a higher number of traffic infractions and violation incidences as drivers both talented and on the brink of idiocy start cutting corners (sometimes literally) and bending rules in a well-meant (probably) and desperate (definitely) attempt to save time. This is the part of the story that I wanted to focus on briefly:

One cabinet secretary thinks he has come up with a genius plan to dissuade drivers who may be harboring such antiestablishment inclinations. He believes that if your frustration leads you to sin, then Babylon – sorry, the government- will show you what REAL frustration is. Get busted on the wrong side of the legal divide in one place and the normal punitive protocol will be followed, but only up to a point. Instead of getting arraigned in a nearby court of law, errant helmsmen will now face the additional task of locating an obscure courtroom where their cases have been filed; courtrooms which more likely than not are situated in a part of the country they have probably never visited. I believe the example given was: get arrested in Mombasa and your case will be heard in Kisumu. The costs involved: financial, energy and time-wise, should be enough to make a driver think twice before making an illegal U-turn, running a red light or overstepping the prevailing speed caps.

It sounds like a plan, but hold on a minute… What if I get arrested in, say, Mtwapa Mombasa for one violation or another at a police roadblock and cannot afford the spot fines/bonds? That means I have to be sent to the farm, get tossed in the slammer, be a guest of the state. Fair enough. I also have to appear in court within 24 hours; that is the law. Once incarcerated, it is the state’s (read police) duty to avail me in court for my case to proceed. I have been arrested in Mtwapa. Court is in Kisumu. See where this is going? It is the police system’s duty to transport me all the way, on some 800-odd km, 16-odd hour road trip for the hearing, and back! Of course there are those drivers who will also be arrested the next day, and the one after that, and the following one. Then there are drivers in other towns also being ferried to remote courtrooms, like, say, a driver from Kakamega being taken to Moyale or vice versa… How much diesel is going to wasted shuttling bad drivers from one corner of the country to the other? Sure, fuel prices have gone down so diesel is dirt cheap now, but still, how many man-hours of productivity will be lost? Count the soon-to-be-defendants, the policemen who will guard them the entire trip, the drivers etc.. too many resources going to waste just to drive a point home.

Not everyone will refuse to pay the spot fines. There are those who, in their minds, even a minute spent in police custody completely undoes all their life achievements and will thus not be seen near a police station under any circumstances. Being charged and having paid the bond, they still have to appear in court; court which is an unimaginable distance away. It is fairly obvious that truancy levels will reach new peaks, and in the books we will look like a country plagued by rampant lawlessness (we, in a way). What now? Who is going to start running after these court-skipping individuals with arrest warrants? Do we have the time, the energy or the resources to chase them when more pressing issues such as the ever-present threat of terror attacks or the incipient outbreak of civil strife keep looming over our heads?

On the flipside, the driver type who is always in a hurry has been put on the spot too. There are those who are always late for something, they’re never sure what, and this is the type that bribes policemen. Screeches to a halt at a roadblock, is told that he was doing twice the speed limit, digs into his pocket and “asks for forgiveness” after which he is “let off with a warning” (we all know the drill, don’t we?). Since they are always in a hurry, the prospect of driving across the country to have his case heard in a place he has never been to is his idea of hell. The policemen also know this. “The forgiveness package just got bigger, sir; cough up now or buy a detailed road map because we’ll be seeing you in Lodwar. You have heard of Lodwar , haven’t you?”

The last option would be to let the miscreants walk, but that is setting a bad precedent, especially for drivers of commercial vehicles. They are bad enough as it is, once they see that escaping punishment is a clear and distinct possibility, they will take more liberties and act more outrageously.

My point is this: not enough thought went into the latest road safety brainwave, just as not much thought went into some of the previous renditions of this same song and dance. Punishing oneself just to punish others is self-defeating; think of the policemen who have to travel long distances, far from their places of work, on a regular basis to deal with (let’s be honest here) trifling cases, non-issues; such as hunting down people on a “wanted list” for contempt of court. It will turn into a farce. To what end?

Weed Them Out

Here is a suggestion of a worthy put-off for potential offenders: impound the vehicles. Simply take the car away from them, it does not matter who it belongs to; whether borrowed, stolen, leased or chauffeured; once found flouting traffic regulations, just impound the vehicle. The period the vehicle stays at the impound lot will depend on the seriousness of the offence: the time served could vary from 30 days to several years. Make the owners pay an additional fine to recover their vehicles AFTER serving the time, or else the vehicle will be scrapped or auctioned. Confiscating driving licenses will not work; replacements are available in the backstreets at a small fee, but confiscating the cars will… River Road may be famous for its forgeries, but they are yet to forge a motor vehicle.

These, in my view, are the reasons why we have such a high accident rate on our roads: 1. there are simply too many cars on our roads right now and 2. these cars are not always driven by people who fully understand the nature and quality of their actions. End of discussion. Potholes, unmarked roads, incorrectly placed speed bumps and “unfamiliarity with the road” (a common excuse applied when a bus has an accident in a locale outside of its normal route of operation): these are nothing but lame excuses the inept and the careless use to hide their avoidable mistakes and/or lack of skill.

There is nothing much we can do about the number of cars on the road, but seizing the ones piloted by those who disregard the Traffic Act might help cull that number a little.

An exponential growth in the number of aspiring drivers will most likely lead to a compromise in the calibre of training they undergo before receiving their driving permits as the various driving schools try to keep up with the surging numbers. Where there is demand and little supply, there is a business opportunity; driving schools of below-par standard also mushroom in the process to tap in to the roaring torrent of hopeful helmswrights. This explains where the non-drivers come from: some of these people may have been trained by others who know no better than their clueless charges.

Who Are These?

And non-drivers are what they are, whether or not their driving licenses are legitimate. Being a driver extends beyond the ability to make a car move. Unfortunately, for most drivers out there, once they prove they can shift up and down the entire gearbox and perform a hill-start, they are good to go. I’d say easily 85% of people driving personal cars lack situational awareness, which is why they crash with alarming frequency and for absurd reasons. The lack of proper driver education also affects policy makers and opinion leaders. How would someone present themselves in front of a TV camera and say that an accident was caused by a driver avoiding pothole? Have they never heard of a brake pedal? How many other vehicles of that type have passed that point without incident?

I’ve seen and still see people defending themselves whenever I point out that they are overtaking on a solid (continuous) yellow line, and the argument is always the same: BUT THE ROAD IS CLEAR, SO I AM DOING NOTHING WRONG. What is shocking is the conviction with which they argue; you’d think they are actually right and you offended them by pointing out their oversight. That’s not the point, the point is they are overtaking on a solid yellow line, which means they are a) blatantly flouting regulations and b) taking a very foolish risk. The road might suddenly not be clear mid-maneuver, and then what?

There are no drivers on our roads; there are only people who know how to make cars move. Night travel embargoes, awkward speed limits, formations of Sacco-s and lengthy unwanted road trips between courthouses are not going to solve the problem, only a straightforward excision of offending material will. The Bible says of your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Take the cars away from the incompetents so that they can not drive any further.

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Blue Boxer Boys Band and Bigoted Blonde Bloggers

This is a clarification and a disclaimer. I do not know any female bloggers, less so any that may have underlying and/or unresolved issues with drivers of blue Subarus. I did not train, nor did I request any internet superhero to pick fights with yuppie-grade Six-Star specialists. I did not ask for any help in disparaging the Boxer Boys.

Blue Subaru        njoki4

My relation with Subaru (drivers) transcends color and creed: an Impreza doesn’t have to be blue to get beaten by a Lancer Evolution; even green ones lose easily… and white ones too. Orange, not so much; but that is a whole other story. My on-off disagreement with the Subaru fan club is not a judgmental and jaundiced look at their lifestyles, or their romantic capabilities, life choices or their financial health; it is a simple debate that is quite easily solved through an orgy of octane overdose, twin turbos, advanced timing, burning rubber, wild understeer, missed gearshifts, shattered valves and bent con-rods… in other words, this is banter between petrolheads, not social commentary.

It is high time prejudiced “keyboard activists” left Subaru drivers alone. Only I am allowed to poke fun at them. I don’t write about age-disparate, inappropriate, financially-fueled social pairings involving sugar-parents (daddies or mommies) in my weekly column, seeing how little I know about them; it is only fair to NOT include motor vehicles in a questionable write-up involving the devious machinations of scheming trollops; obnoxious opportunists seeking pots of gold where they aren’t supposed to; more so if the author of said piece thinks a Range Rover Sport is the beginning and the end all things motoring.

Leave the Subaru-bashing to me. I got this.

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Ford Who?

Speaking of the internet: Ford is trending on my desk a lot. First came the Mustang, then the Focus; now this. “This” is not a car, just to be clear; “this” is a social media platform. Let me explain:

 

                                                           Ford FORD_-_KENYA_logo

The sellers of Ford vehicles in the country thought it clever to increase their presence on the worldwide web by opening a Facebook page. Not a bad move, but then whoever was tasked with labeling the page either 1) is younger than 25 years old and has no sense of primary school Civics, or 2) had their head buried in the sand throughout the entire decade that was the ’90s. The page is called Ford Kenya.

Now, pardon me, but wasn’t Ford Kenya a prominent political party during the furor that led to the creation of Section 2A in the constitution back in 1992? So, what next, someone will start selling imported Fords from Michigan and decide since they come straight from the Dearborn factory and are thus original in every aspect, and our national language is Swahili, he will therefore call his enterprise “Ford Asili”? What of another one who sells cheap Fords for the masses, , he will be selling “the people’s Ford” (a la VW), hence “Ford People”?

This is a joke, Ford Kenya. Surely your IT geeks can come up with a more original name that does not evoke memories of the multiparty chaos this country has been through.

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