Highway Code is sacred, just like Xmas; observe it

By Ng'ang'a Mbugua
Thursday, December 17th, 2020
Modern urban highway.
In summary

It’s the season to be jolly but does that give motorists the licence to flout every traffic law in the Highway Code?

Or, as is the annual tradition when town dwellers start travelling upcountry for Christmas holidays, they have started handing over the steering wheel to people who can make cars move but are not necessarily drivers?

Kenyans have in recent days witnessed the spectacle that highways have become as people who should know better turn our roads into lawless jungles where vehicles interlock for hours, often because drivers have failed to use common sense or simply choose to disregard traffic rules.

Looking at the way motorists have been flouting laws only goes to demonstrate Kenya is only a gas pedal away from anarchy despite all pretensions to the contrary.

Civilised societies are based on a simple premise — that every member will behave predictably.

This is the only known antidote to anarchy. It is also the basis of all rules that regulate conduct in public spaces.

Any society that disregards this founding philosophy quickly degenerates into chaos, especially when policing is weak as is the case in Kenya.

Because we cannot have traffic police officers after every kilometre on major highways, wayward drivers have turned the key arteries into playthings where only the brazen have the right of way and where those who went to driving school are made to feel as though they do not know what they are doing behind the wheel.

The result is that highways get clogged, sometimes for hours on end, just because there are motorists who are in a terrible rush to get to the village before everyone else.

As a society, we naturally expect matatu drivers and motorcycle riders to disregard traffic rules.

We have given them this leeway, subordinating the rights of other road users to the wayward makanga culture that has also found its way into our politics and public service.

In essence, there is no difference whatsoever between the matatu driver who edges every other motorists out of the way and the civil servant who diverts money from public coffers.

Both are abusing a public good that should be enjoyed by all. Both take advantage of mass inertia to make a mockery of the law, knowing very well they will not be arrested, and, even if they are, they can bet they will never be jailed. 

Now, however, even motorists, who have both the benefit of formal training in driving and higher levels of education, have sunk into this morass, especially when they hit the road to the rural.

It is now common to see even new, high-end vehicles overlapping on the shoulders of highways, with occupants throwing out trash, littering the serene landscapes.

What’s more, we have turned the pristine environs into ablution facilities. There is nothing civilised or modern about these malpractices and, if we were to be honest, we ought to cease being outraged whenever politicians and civil servants use pipes to siphon public resources.

Because we have created a country in which choices do not have consequences, we have sanctioned the brazen culture of abusing public spaces and resources for personal gain.

On the road, this culture started with matatus and when motorcycles picked it up, we turned the other cheek.

Now, it has become free for all, making Kenya arguably one of the most difficult places on earth to drive in. It is no longer possible to predict driver behaviour and this accounts for the all too numerous crashes we witness on our roads.

Many of these are seldom highlighted in the media, but the cost is evident when one looks at the balance sheets of insurance companies.

All of them are in the red, with the exception of one or two of the largest. All are hemorrhaging money by the hundreds of millions, just because motorists have thrown out the Highway Code with the sugarcane bagasse.

Even if we were to forget the law for one minute and ask ourselves: What is the point of Christmas? Is it not to care or be mindful of others?

This, when all is said and done, is why we all drive upcountry for the festivities.

So it does not make sense that motorists adopt a don’t-care attitude on the road but imitate saints during family reunions.

Were we all to use roads they way they were intended, we would all have a merry time on the highway, but we are too busy accelerating to give a hoot. — Mbugua is a Partner and Head of Content at House of Romford — [email protected]