Monday, March 14, 2011

The Driving "Test"..

Last night, Julie Gichuru had a piece on Citizen TV news about road accident blackspots that included an interview with the Kenya Police Traffic Commandant. Link here.

One of her first questions to the commandant was something along the lines of "Mr Commandant, what can we do to improve the situation on our roads?...should all drivers just get retested since many got their licenses in somewhat dubious circumstances?"

The commandant's answer went something like "Julie let me tell you...I appeal to all Kenyans who did not get their licenses in the correct manner to voluntarily step forward and take the test again"

It is a shame Julie did not push that point further because that statement right there really outraged me. Here's why: According to the Kenya Police website, the Traffic Police Department (of which the commandant is the head) is charged with the responsibility (among many others) of: "Testing of Drivers and Issuances of certificates of competence".

What that means is once a person has done driving school, they go to the police for their driving test. Specifically they go to the traffic police. The traffic police headed by none other than...

Now let me recount what my testing experience was (albeit many many long years ago).

A huge group arrived at the police station at 8am. At about 8.30am the tests started. The test consists of two parts; theory and practical. Theory is where you enter a room (individually) and get asked about road signs before being told to move a toy car on a model street.  Practical is where you would go out with a policeman and drive the car under his watch so he could judge your competence.

My theory was fairly straightforward. The policeman with a pointer would point to a sign on a board and I had to explain what the sign he had pointed to meant. Then he'd point to another sign etc etc..about five times. I think I got them all but he was moving so fast, I don't think he even listened for any answers. Then he asked me to move the toy car from point A to point B before turning away to talk to his colleague for most of the exercise. He only really saw the parking at the end bit of the exercise. Obviously as the only real witness of the event, I will say I was spot on with that part as well.

For the practical bit, a policeman would head out with groups of about 6-7 people, in a Datsun pickup, and test them individually. The test consisted of mainly starting the vehicle, moving forward a couple of metres, stopping the vehicle and pulling up the handbrake. In my group, one person was asked to do a hill start and a couple were asked to reverse the vehicle. All tests were done with all the other students sat in the back of the pickup as the driver was tested. No individual was in the driver's seat for longer than five minutes.

Now in my group, two people failed to even move the vehicle. They stalled again and again before being told to get out of the driver's seat by the policeman (a lot of dramatic shouting involved here.."Toka gari..toka kabisa..kumbafu!!" sort of thing). A couple managed to move the vehicle with lots of jerking after initially stalling. Only two of us were able to move the vehicle without any huge drama.

We then headed back to the police station and were told to come back for results in the afternoon.

Every single person who did the test in my group passed and therefore got a license.

So back to the traffic commandant...what annoyed me about his response is that he did not in any way take any sort of responsibility for the fact that a large proportion of drivers who "pass" driving tests and who have "passed" tests in the past can barely drive at all, nor did he indicate what has changed in the testing regime to ensure that nobody who is not fully competent to drive is ever given a license. Yes, fingers can be pointed at driving schools that do not seem to teach any driving whatsoever, but ultimately the fact is that if every single student who was not fit to drive failed his/her test, the driving schools would be forced to raise their standards. Thus in my view, the commandant needs to first and foremost restore the reputation of his testing service then he can ask us tosubmit ourselves for retesting.

A lax teaching and testing system is a big contributing factor to the problems we have on our roads and this aspect of road safety while not as glamorous for the media as alco-blows and grisly accidents needs to be highlighted much more.


  1. I know that this is not the reaction you are expecting, but your post makes me relax n not get worried coz it seems the driving test will be a breeze when i take it.

  2. I totally agree....the Kenya Police Traffic Commandant actually has further powers, (which I am sure he did not mention during the interview)... According to the Traffic Act CAP 403, "Upon application by a police officer of or above the rank of Superintendent, the Registrar (of Motor Vehicles) may.....(b) order a fresh driving test in the case of any holder of a driving licence who appears to the Registrar to be so deficient in driving ability as to be a source of danger to the public, and, if the licence holder fails to pass such test, order that his licence shall be revoked.".... The Act (section 40) goes on to give conditions of when a revoked license can be restored by the Registrar one of which is if he passes the driving test (re-test, I presume) for the class of which the licence was originally granted.

    So Kenya Police Traffic Commandant could have indicated this instead of requesting people to do so voluntarily, but that brings to the question, is this legal provision applied? If so then a number of driving licenses of reckless matatu drivers should have been revoked!

  3. Matatu drivers and private car drivers alike.

    I did not know about this. Thank you

  4. @Tony LOL. I suppose that's one way to look at it thought I can't promise that it's still the same

  5. Thanks for the updates on Kenyan driving test, i have my tests in a week's time and from your article i think i got nothing to be afraid of because i will surely pass the test! thanks bro! From a positive angle, its a pity that the same authority we trust our lives on is the same on the front-line in endangering the same- shame on Kenya Police!

  6. I am in a driving school at the moment and for the practicals, there teacher is forcing me to buy him lunch otherwise he will withhold some crutual information for my benefit.If you bribe them, the better information you receive otherwise you just have basics and that's it

  7. I don't know if you guys know this, but when you pay for your driving course at the driving school, 1000 Ksh per student is automatically assigned to the traffic commandant at the testing centre. There is a very small tick that is made on every student's test paper, to show the commandant that the student has indeed submitted the amount. Thus, regardless of performance, every driving student is a GUARANTEED PASS (How do you think the driving school's could otherwise very proudly announce "guaranteed pass" on their advertisements?). Now, you do the math. Every week, there are at least 1000 students taking the test. This translates to Ksh 1 Million per week to the commandant. They obviously take their cut, and the money moves up the ladder to those in seniority. With this kind of money floating around, who would want to interrupt the system by making legislation any stricter? And how then do we expect our driving standards to be any better?
    Should a student wise up and inquire at the driving school what the additional 1000 bob are for, and should he refuse to pay on moral grounds, he will still go for the test, where try as he may, he will never pass. My brother in law had this experience. After trying twice, and paying for the course all over again both times, he finally gave in.
    This is Kenya. This is how we roll!

    1. They will pay or get choked by what they steal from humble and trying Kenyans....they should realize their mistakes in their next birthdays

  8. Am going tommorrow I hope to pass

  9. Yeah, I do get a sense of ease too. Police freak me out a bit, and if they are not breathing down my throat through the testing, I think I shall be alright.

    I will gladly sign my death Certificate, if I get it..

  10. It's actually unfortunate that my instructor asked me for Ksh 1500 on the first day of the class. He promised to organize a d.l by the end of the 3 weeks. I transferred to a different branch of the same institution and low and behold, the guy had not been teaching me much. Anyway, my exam is in a week and so far so good, no one has asked me for lunch. I hope for the best.

  11. the people with an L sign on their cars never cause accidents. These are people who practice driving with their cars (not driving school cars, which are limited) after passing the test. Having 15 lessons in a driving school cannot make one a competent driver. I think it is ok for one who is not good in practical but good in theory to be given a licence. It is practice the that makes one competent

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