To ensure road safety, impound culprits’ cars

So, fuel prices have gone down over the past few days, and by a sizeable percentage.

From highs of Sh120, premium is currently hitting lows of Sh90. That is an approximate 25 per cent decrease limit-to-limit, 20 per cent from some quarters.

With reduced pump prices come euphoria and the re-discovery of hitherto disregarded and/or otherwise avoided privileges such as private and convenient mobility.

Driving your car is no longer an end-month festivity,  it can now be at least  weekly.

But Alongside this silver lining comes the rain-bearing cloud: increased traffic, which means perennial gridlocks, which mean wasted time, an upsurge in national levels of frustration and the possibility of this frustration being vented as road rage and/or bad behaviour.

A more certain outcome will be more traffic violations as drivers start cutting corners and bending rules in a well-meant  and desperate 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 prodigious plan to rein in bad drivers.

Get busted doing wrong in one place and the normal punitive protocol will be followed, but only up to a point.

Obscure courtroom

Instead of getting arraigned in a nearby court, they will now face the additional task of locating an obscure courtroom where their cases have been filed.

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 what if I get arrested in, say, Mtwapa, Mombasa but cannot afford the spot fines/bonds? That means I have to get be locked up  Fair enough.

I also have to appear in court within 24 hours. Once incarcerated, it is the state’s  duty  (read police)  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 drivers who will also be arrested on subsequent days.

Then there will drivers in other towns also being ferried to remote courtrooms. How much diesel is going to be wasted shuttling bad drivers from one corner of the country to the other?

Sure, fuel prices have gone down,  but still, how many man-hours  will be lost? Count the soon-to-be-defendants, the policemen who will guard them the entire trip, the drivers, etc. and you have 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 will  not be seen near a police station under any circumstances.

Being charged and having paid the bond, they would still have to appear in court, which is far away.

It is fairly obvious that truancy levels will reach new peaks. So who is going to start running after these court-skipping individuals with arrest warrants?

Do we have the  resources to chase them when more pressing issues such as insecurity?

On the flipside, the driver who is always in a hurry has also  been put on the spot. There are those who are always late for something and readily bribe policemen.

They screech to a halt at a roadblock, are told that they were doing twice the speed limit, dig  into thier  pockets and “asks for forgiveness”, after which they are “let off with a warning”.

Since they are always in a hurry, the prospect of driving across the country to have their cases heard remote places is their  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  possibility, they will take more liberties and act more outrageously.

My point is that not enough thought went into the latest road safety brainwave.

Punishing oneself just to punish others is self-defeating; think of the policemen who would 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 for potential offenders: impound the vehicles, irrespective of the owners. The period the vehicle stays at the impound lot can depend on the seriousness of the offence.

Then make the owners pay an additional fine to recover their vehicles after serving  time, or else the vehicle will be scrapped or auctioned. Confiscating driving licences will not work; replacements are available on the backstreets at a small fee. River Road may be famous for its forgeries, but they are yet to forge a motor vehicle.

The reasons we have such a high accident rate on our roads are:

  1. There are too many cars on our roads, and 2. They are not always driven by people who fully understand the nature and quality of their actions.

Potholes, unmarked roads, incorrectly placed speed bumps and “unfamiliarity with the road” are  lame excuses made by the inept and the careless to hide their avoidable mistakes and/or lack of skill.

We cannot do much about the number of cars on the road, but seizing the ones driven by those who disregard the Traffic Act might help cull that number.

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 low standards also mushroom to tap into the roaring torrent of hopeful drivers.

This explains where the non-drivers come from: some might have been trained by people who know no better than their clueless charges.

Who are they?

And non-drivers are what they are, whether or not their driving licences are legitimate. Being a driver goes 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  85 per cent of the 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 can someone stand 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.

Their 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 were actually right and you offended them by pointing out their oversight.

However, the point is that 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-manoeuvre, 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, formation of Saccos 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 if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Take the cars away from the incompetents so that they cannot drive any further.

So, what will come after Ford Kenya? 

Speaking of the Internet: Ford is trending a lot on my desk. 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:

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 labelling the page is: 1) either younger than 25 years old and has no sense of primary school civics, or 2) had their head buried in the sand throughout the ‘90s.

The page is called Ford Kenya.

Now, wasn’t Ford Kenya a prominent political party during the furor that led to the creation of Section 2A of the constitution back in 1992? So, what next, someone will start selling imported Fords from Michigan and decide that, since they come straight from the Dearborn factory and are thus original, 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 là 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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