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February 23, 2019

How to cope with our Roads and the lawless driving

Driving on our roads can increase your blood pressure.
Driving on our roads can increase your blood pressure. Photo/FILE

Ever had the misfortune of driving behind a driver who insists on driving for the both of you? They drive slower than they should, causing you to desperately want to overtake them, which their antics then do not allow.

By the time you do overtake your blood pressure is just that little bit higher and you have out of necessity muttered some words under your breath. Similar behaviour but one you should forgive less are those drivers who swoop past you, usually in conditions where traffic is heavy, with hazard lights on.

They duck and weave, brake hard, then speed off as if to say ‘look at me! Not only do I know how to drive but I also know people, so I can do what I like!’ Interestingly such drivers fall into two categories; there are the Toyota premio types, either taxis or matatu wannabes who try to squeeze through little gaps and then there are the larger Toyotas blue plated usually. In all cases the indicator light is being used to signal ‘hazard!’ yet the vehicles are moving at a speed that makes you wonder what could the hazard be?

Driving codes around the world maintain that hazard-warning lights are not meant to be used while driving unless it is to signal that up ahead there is an obstruction thereby warning the driver behind. In some jurisdictions it is illegal to drive with hazard lights on; the lights are meant to be used only when the vehicle is stationary for example on the side of the road and broken down or following an accident. That is, hazard lights should only be used to signal that there is immediate danger.

If your reaction to seeing hazard lights flashing is to continue doing what you were doing anyway then the impact is lost. The problem with such habituation is that when there is now a real emergency, people do not react appropriately and it then requires higher levels of activation to make them do the right thing.

Previously the use of a siren on the roads was reserved for the presidential motorcade, ambulances and the three army land rover convoys, guns bristling out of the back, that would carry cash at the end of the month to pay soldiers. Mobile money, ATMs have presumably sorted out the issue, as we no longer see them. However it is still common to see armed money carrying escort vehicles behaving badly. The sad thing is that this is only one little group of hazard users reduced.

Over the past few years the number of drivers using not just hazard lights but flashing roof lights and sirens have increased exponentially. It is not clear why this should be the case but perhaps the new constitution, which has a chapter on peoples’ rights, has heralded this.

A number of ministers have escorts that bully road users off the road, as do some governors especially when they are on home turf. A more understandable level are hearses, which traditionally have been allowed to use hazard lights. On Fridays and Saturdays we have wedding parties trying to beat traffic.

The number of ambulances has increased tremendously since the ministry of health prescribed that all level four hospitals should have an ambulance; they have to be used. And then there are those matatus, remember to be a PSV driver you must be over 24 years of age, who are in the mood to drive crazy chopping and cutting through traffic, swooping for passengers immediately after overtaking you, they too put on hazard lights.

Together it makes for roads that have danger signs flashing everywhere. Yet when there is real danger, a truck is parked beside a road badly, a bus is flying at unreasonable speeds, new bumps grow unmarked everywhere it is difficult to pick up.

The average road user is bombarded with so much stimuli while all the time on the look out to avoid or to pay bribes that it is any wonder that people would want to drive. Yet for many young people as they turn eighteen and if they can afford it one of the things they covet is to get a driving license. Perhaps we need to formulate some ritual ceremonies similar to circumcision rites that initiate new drivers to the hazards of life.

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