Don’t drop proposal on vehicle safety tests

Studies show our car pollution spiking every day along the main streets. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Studies show our car pollution spiking every day along the main streets. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

We continue to have one of the worst traffic accident rates in the world, in a country where it simply doesn’t matter if our brakes work and driving a death trap on the road is a right our consumer campaigners fight for.

At the same time our pollution levels, spewed out of the back of elderly cars in clouds of black exhaust, are killing all of us, in a cancer epidemic.

Studies show our car pollution spiking every day along the main streets of Nairobi to 10 times the levels of cancer-causing chemicals considered a safe maximum by the World Health Organisation: as in, live in Nairobi and die of cancer.

Altogether, our cars are spewing unregulated exhaust; smashing into each other because their brakes don’t work; skidding off roads, carrying children into tumbling piles of tortured steel, because their tyre tracks are long gone; and dropping actual pieces on highways, as rust finally wins the day.

We really do run one of the world’s largest piles of junk cars, doubling every six years, and killing us all. Yet, when the National Transport and Safety Authority finally did the right thing and announced proposals to introduce testing, just every two years, to assure the roadworthiness of all cars over four years old, they united a solid front of opposition.

Said Cofek, our outspoken champion of consumer rights, the proposal was “the most reckless, outrageous, unfortunate and an uncalled position”. It wasn’t alone.

The Motor Association of Kenya called the testing a “draconian idea” and “a transgression to privacy”. Such stirring rhetoric: it being clear, of course, that every vehicle owner should have the right to run an unsafe car as a matter of ‘privacy.’

In fact, the real opposition to the proposal was rooted in the Sh2,600 – Sh3,900 fee per inspection. Reams got written about this extra ‘taxation’, how it was an imposition of enormous order on every single vehicle owner.

I am a vehicle owner. In fact, 27 per cent of Nairobians are vehicle owners. As vehicle owners, we know exactly how far Sh1,000 of petrol will take us. In my life, it covers just over three return school runs, or a round trip from where I live to Bomas: it’s a quarter of a tankful of petrol.

Yet, the NTSA board is now stuck in long-term paralysis on vehicle testing because our ‘public opinion’ is that Sh1,300 to Sh1,900 a year is unreachable for a car owner in proving their aging car safe.

That must be very comforting for everyone who has lost loved ones to car accidents. Although, apparently, they shouldn’t worry: with some commentators even claiming the state of elderly cars doesn’t create accidents.

In reality, when safety belts no longer work, citizens in a collision break their necks and spines even in the rear seats. In the front driver’s seat, they break their ribs and puncture their lungs.

In the front passenger seat, as they soar through the windscreen, the impact on their head, neck and torso is that of being sawn with broken glass at huge and deep speed. Few live. Old, bare tyres that move into skids, send cars into walls, houses, pedestrians and other cars.

Cars without an outside headlight appear as a motorbike on a dark lane, proving lethal. And the list goes on. Junk-heap cars kill. All the time.

Every day. Yet, really, it isn’t the equivalent of a one-third tank of petrol that all those outspoken critics mind: it’s that failing the test might mean replacing the tyres, which really does cost money. So, yay for ‘privacy’.

Go right ahead NTSA in not ever introducing safety testing on vehicles, having triggered such a barrage of well informed comment, and let’s save on fit tyres, fit brake pads, fit head lamps, and fit safety belts, as our consumer right.

Although please take note: sometimes, public opinion isn’t about sense; it’s about who shouts loudest.

And, so far, the only bonus seems to be that we all get to keep Sh1,300 this year that we can use for the harambee [fund-raising] for the next person we know killed by an unfit car: which are likely to be many. What an amazing budgetary choice.