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Kenyan Driving Tips & Hints

Kenyan Driving Tips & Hints

Perhaps you’ve just passed your driving test or you’re new to Kenya – allow Kenya Forum
explain the rules of the road; There are three things to be wary of when driving in Kenya: the roads, the cars and the other drivers.

The roads, for example, have a distinctly lunar feel to them and are pitted with sizeable potholes. (At some point it appears that a meteor shower hit Kenya sometime after modern roads were laid but no one seems to remember when, so it must have been on a Friday evening after payday.)

The roads are theoretically divided into lanes going both ways but do not let this constrain you. Experienced drivers in Kenya remember the racing car game from the 1980s, Scalextric, where the toy racing cars drew their electrostatic power from a shiny line in the centre of the track – the white dividing line on the roads in Kenya seems to perform a similar function. While you are ‘middling’; drivers coming towards you can always pull off
into the bushes or a drainage ditch to allow you to proceed.

Speeding is gently discouraged by unmarked speed bumps that a tracked main battle tank would struggle to cross. It is generally better to drive around the sides of the hump (pedestrians will usually get out of the way, especially if you are moving at high speed).

If you do decide to be cautious and slow down for the speed bump, be aware that many speed bumps are higher than the gap between the road and your undercarriage (even if you are driving a 14-ton Tata truck): you may find your car see-sawing back and forth on top of the hump if you are one of those drivers who think a low-slung sports car is a good option for driving in Kenya.

As a general guide remember that one of the principles of driving in Kenya is: ‘the more expensive the car the faster you can drive and the fewer road regulations you have to follow’.

Night and/or inclement weather brings additional challenges. In these circumstances it is obligatory to switch to full beam and, if you have fog lights, to turn them on too. Hazard lights are also a good backup option. The end result is everyone else is dazzled and has no idea which way you are going, giving you a decisive edge in the war of the road. Using this tactic you can also avoid the annoyance of a road traffic accident (although you may
witness quite a few in your rearview mirror).

You may also encounter some surprise fellow travellers on the road: a herd of cattle, for example is fairly normal, and it is not that unusual to see a camel or even a lion. Don’t be surprised if, while speeding along one of the smooth new expressways, you find a cyclist pottering along beside you (for about a millisecond since your own vehicle will be touching the sound barrier as it passes him).

However, trucks are a genuine challenge to your dominance of the highway. They are often overloaded with cargo, boulders, earth, sand or people (the people are often hanging off the sides or back) and there is always the possibility that if you tailgate a lorry you’ll find a person or a 120kg rock on your lap, along with the million pieces of glass that formerly constituted your windscreen.

Best to overtake them as fast as possible, regardless of whether there is a blind bend or hump ahead. It is a critical test for a driver in Kenya, how they handle a blind bend or hump, and your performance in the test is a direct indicator of your virility, your success in your career and your general standing in the community.

Another key indicator of an experienced driver in Kenya is nudging out. If the vehicle ahead is slowing you down (maybe only doing 70 or 80 mph in a built-up area), it is your obligation to ‘nudge out’. Dont feel obliged to keep your eyes forward, though – it is perfectly acceptable to maintain eye contact with your passenger while telling that what you are doing. Or telling them what you had for your breakfast. Whatever is on your mind
at the time.
Don’t feel, either, that just because you’re driving you cant keep up with your busy job and your active social life at the same time. While driving it is perfectly acceptable to take calls (including video), send messages, read e-mails and so on. We generally recommend doing this on a smartphone but if you only have a laptop, so be it.

However, there comes a time in a driver in Kenya’s life when they meet up with Sergeant Hongo, an encounter which generally takes place towards the end of the month and just before payday. Or a major holiday such as Christmas. Or when the school fees are due.

It is best to have a supply of 50 shilling notes to donate to the Sergeant Hongo Retirement Home (a humble 16-bedroom villa under construction in northern Nairobi). His eyes are acutely sensitive to colour, seeking out the orange of the 1000 shilling note or the green of its 500 shilling sister. Never let Sergeant Hongo see orange or green, only red or purple. Follow these guidelines and then, in due course, you will be ready to advance to our next article and the next stage of driving in Kenya: ‘Drive Like a Matatu Driver’

‘Drive Like a Mutatu Driver’  includes guidance on essential subjects like ‘Driving while high’; ‘How to turn an upside down vehicle back up the right way’; Where to buy burgundy coloured clothes’ and ‘How to wire an 84-inch screen TV into a minibus’. We hope you enjoy it when we get around to writing it.

In the meantime, drive carefully!


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