Why Kenyan drivers do not stick to their lanes

The madness on Kenyan roads has its roots in lack of markings

In Summary

• Nobody seems to know or care what lane they are in as long as they can arrive first

The first few times I got behind the wheel of a car, I was not of age and had very little idea about what I was doing or how it was meant to be done. I had seen others drive all my life, and they made it all look so easy, even though in reality it wasn’t. 

Of course I was taught to drive in a manual car, and I believe those who learnt to drive in automatic cars had a far easier time of it.

When I officially learnt how to drive, I was taught that road markings were crucial information put there to guide and control traffic and to let motorists know what rules they were meant to be following at any given time. 

It was drummed into my head that if I learnt how to read and understand them, they would let me know important things, such as when I was allowed to overtake, when I should (or shouldn't) stop, and exactly who has right of way. 

It was made clear that the road markings could also direct me into the correct lane when approaching a roundabout, and keep me and other road users in a safe driving position. 

The roundabout issue was especially important as my driving school was in the UK, where at the time, roundabouts were still quite a thing.

In fact, allow me to digress, because as I was thinking about roundabouts, I looked them up and went down a rabbit hole, where I discovered some fascinating facts.

For instance, contrary to my long-held beliefs that roundabouts are a UK invention, apparently, “one-way circular intersections were invented by a French architect, Eugene Henard, in 1877 for horse-drawn carriages. 

The US Federal Highway Commission says that during the same period, the American architect William Eno was also proposing his plan for small circles to alleviate traffic congestion in New York City.”

At the same time  the Brits insist that “the first roundabout was built in Letchworth Garden City, in Britain in 1907, and was intended to serve as a traffic island where pedestrians could gather shortly before continuing with their journey.”

However, the website Alaska Roundabouts says: “It is argued that these were not true roundabouts, given that they had a very different purpose. With time, though, roundabouts were used to slow vehicle speeds and increase the safety of both motorists and pedestrians.” 

According to a survey by the site DiscoverCars.com, France, which I have yet to visit, is home to 42,986 roundabouts. The UK comes second with a recorded total of 25,976 roundabouts throughout its islands.

However, the US department of transportation does say that the era of modern roundabouts began in the UK in 1956, with the construction of the first "yield-at-entry" roundabouts. 

The department’s website tells us that In 1966, a nationwide yield-at-entry rule launched the modern roundabout revolution. Australia and most other British-influenced countries, including Kenya, soon built modern roundabouts.

Fascinating as I am sure you found that, let me return to the point I was making, which was about the importance of road markings.

The fact that, by and large, we no longer have distinctive road markings on many of our most important roads, such as Uhuru Highway and the Thika “Super highway”, both of which I drove myself on this past weekend, is in my opinion one of the main reasons that the standards of driving in Kenya have deteriorated so much in the last decade and a half.

My experience as a driver, coming from South Africa where most people stick to the correct use of lanes due to their being properly marked, is that in Kenya, nobody seems to know or care what lane they are in as long as they can get wherever it is that they want to go before any other car on the road.

Until this free-for-all on the roads is sorted out and people learn to stick to their lanes, driving on our roads will continue being a mad lottery, where who dares wins no matter how wrong they are.

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