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.