ROAD INSANITY

Why a traffic officer matters most

Over time, traffic police have been stereotyped and the term has become synonymous with negativity.

In Summary

• Traffic police are designed to be a no-nonsense breed. This expectation comes with the territory of their road safety enforcement mandate of strict enforcement.

• As the cop endeavors to enforce the Traffic Act and the highway code, s/he ‘unfortunately’ gets into the way of road users, thus interfering with road ‘freedoms’.

Why a traffic officer matters most
Why a traffic officer matters most
Image: OZONE

Whenever a mention of the term ‘traffic police’ crops up, a negative connotation is conjured.

Over time, traffic police have been stereotyped and the term has become synonymous with negativity.

Most road users oftentimes find themselves on the wrong side of the law, thus being in close interaction with a traffic officer.

Traffic police are designed to be a no-nonsense breed. This expectation comes with the territory of their road safety enforcement mandate of strict enforcement.

Ensuring sanity on the roads, especially Kenya’s, is a no mean feat. Every motorist, including passengers in matatus, ever seem to be late for an appointment. This hurry is ever manifest, so to say. You only wonder why Kenyans never plan errands in advance to beat the rush.

Then we have these contingent situations on our congested roads, where ‘congestion’ means motorists’ bad manners. Maybe recklessness describes it better.

We routinely overlap when we should be enjoying the drive; always speeding including at restricted spots or obvious risky places when commonsense should prevail; cuss at everyone for no apparent cause, etc. Why do we routinely behave this way?

This is the time when law steps in to police those who can’t police themselves. The traffic cop becomes a necessity of sanity of our roads then. We simply can’t be left on our own good behaviours on the roads and do that which could benefit all. It is always a win-lose than win-win mentality for us.

Therefore, as the cop endeavors to enforce the Traffic Act and the highway code, s/he ‘unfortunately’ gets into the way of road users. This means interfering with our road ‘freedoms’.

What we forget to appreciate at such a point is that our personal ‘freedoms’ infringe on other road users too. No wonder the traffic officer at such a moment crosses the threshold and enters into the ugly cultural space of “us versus them” of law enforcement.

Getting into this space means being inconvenienced while on the road through outright arrests and traffic violations bookings – meaning you not only have to spend some extra cash on fines, but you have to create some time to attend court.

But for the ingenious traffic violators, they opt to induce the officer to look the other way. Unfortunately, this behavior has become a syndicated road culture that affords a road villain the undeserved freedom to once more offend.

Yet such ugly nuisances don’t negate the overall and divine objective of the traffic cop on the roads. Without their presence, we are doomed. We simply can’t and won’t move. And this is the fact.

Last Thursday, I witnessed firsthand the good side of traffic cops – their utmost necessity on the roads. Not that it is the first time to witness virtue on the road, but my admiration for their cause was reinforced.

Traffic officers literally put in all the ugly and odd hours to ensure free flow of traffic. This routinely happens despite prevailing weather conditions.

Traffic police officers brave the rains while manning Kenyatta Avenue-Uhuru Highway roundabout
Traffic police officers brave the rains while manning Kenyatta Avenue-Uhuru Highway roundabout
Image: WILFRED NYANGARESI

Take Mombasa Road, for example. With all the smog from the road construction dust and debris, these officers bear it all whilst controlling traffic. Come rain, they are put. And sun? They remain in post. And what is the motivation? Of course, service provision than the ugly infractions we do witness sometimes.

During the Thursday gridlock – which was partly caused by the ongoing road upgrades and motorists’ bad behaviours – a situation that lasted the entire night, only the traffic officers were the constant feature.

They gave their whole despite the odds, and were even extremely courteous, directing motorists to possible escape routes. I lasted seven plus hours humbled in the jam, as my respect for the officers soared to greater heights.

Not that they don’t have their indiscretions, as earlier noted. But traffic officers’ utility on roads far outweighs such malpractice. This is a National Police Service reform area that the Inspector General, Commandant traffic and senior commanders are belaboring.

The traffic commandant is on a road safety speaking circuit on local radio stations to reach out to a critical mass to ‘inform’ and ‘educate’ including ‘learn’ on good road manners, so to speak. The outcome of this is intended to change attitudes and instill road discipline.

The public equally have the primary role of ensuring enforcement integrity on the roads: not to induce an officer, period! Without an advance inducement, situational temptations to sin are mitigated to a great measure. But as long as the public induce officers in bribe taking, we shall continue to bemoan the tragedy indefinitely.

Let’s, therefore, celebrate our traffic officers for the great work of keeping our roads not only safe but also ensure there is a free flow of traffic under extreme conditions.

Bruno Shioso, a commissioner of police, is the NPS director of corporate communication/ spokesperson