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The problem with cars

Owning a car is a status symbol for many people. As one gets further ahead in life one updates the clothes they wear, the devices they use and, of course, the cars they drive.

Politicians and businessmen, especially take the car seriously, most preferring dark-coloured behemoths that ooze power and success in equal measure.

We all want to own our dream car and that has been the motivation behind many a late night at the office. When we finally get our very own, we feel a justifiable sense of accomplishment.

Whether it’s a tyre-ripping, eardrum-shattering sports car or a three-cylinder cute city runabout, we all have that one dream machine we would like to own. But should we all aspire to own a car?

There are over 100,000 used cars registered in Kenya every year and as the average saloon car takes up 1,300 square feet of tarmac, that alone eats up 12km squared of road. This invariably leads to valuable time wasted in traffic jams as roads clog up faster than they can be built, which at over Sh50 million per kilometre is outrageous.

The only other option is to use the bus, which at 120 sq feet of road space per person, is the more efficient option and would leave the streets flowing smoothly.

But we have matatus, not buses. As a transport system using a matatu is a bit like having a kidney transplant by an incompetent and drunk backstreet doctor. You pray it goes well. You could get robbed in a matatu, or be harassed by uncouth touts who curse like drunken sailors.

Whenever someone coughs, I immediately think they have Ebola or TB. It gets worse in rainy weather when the closed windows and wet clothes combine into a humid and sweaty mess. It’s easy to see why anyone with the money would much rather own a car. But should they?

The answer is a resounding no. You see, a car is for all intents and purposes, a two-tonne speeding projectile capable of immense destruction, even instant death.

Any time, a car could end up in an accident and the only thing that can stop that from happening is the bag of skin and bones in the driver’s seat called a human.

It follows that because cars can be dangerous that a competence test must be carried out and all over the world there’s a driving curriculum you must pass before you are issued with a licence.

Unfortunately, driver training and examination in Kenya is laughable compared to countries like, say, Finland and only better than Mexico where you don’t actually have to take a test.

In Kenya, you’re taught little more than how to move a car and expected to learn the rest through experience. Driving schools further oil the hands of the examiner so that no matter how bad you are, you still get a pass.

Compare that to the Finnish system which requires first one to pass basic, practice and advanced training before taking theory and practical driving tests, which include among other things driving on a wet skid-pad to hone control of a skidding car, forward and reverse slaloms and eye tests to make sure you can see well, day or night before allowing you to get on the roads.

Most drivers in Kenya couldn’t care less about cars. Most choose automatics because driving is the last thing on their mind and they would rather be on the phone or applying make up than bother with which lane they’re on.

Because they’re not driving enthusiasts they don’t actually know or care how their cars work, relegating every responsibility to the mechanic.

These are the people who don’t mind overlapping and drive with an attitude of entitlement, demanding that the government must build more roads and lower the price of fuel while carelessly throwing litter out of the windows.

Across the country drivers constantly stumble in a drunken stupor into their cars and claim it knows the way home.

The callousness by the stakeholders in motoring is disturbing to say the very least and our protests whenever an accident happens, hypocritical at best.

Owning a car should be as difficult as owning a gun and one must be expected to pass a rigorous test that covers all aspects of driving before being allowed on public roads.

The only reason everyone is on the road is because the system has failed and anyone armed with a bank loan can get a car. Cars are serious machines and owning one should be a matter of competence, not simply vanity and financial ability.

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