Motorists in Nairobi have complained about harassment on the road by VIPs whose vehicles have blaring sirens and flashing strobe lights. Their drivers use these instruments to push for right of way even though the officials do not fall under the categories of motorists with the right of way.
The law says only ambulances, police cars, fire engines, the President and Deputy President’s cars are allowed to have sirens and strobe lights.
Traffic Act Cap 403 Section 119 stipulates that “every driver shall, upon hearing of any gong, bell (other than a bicycle) or siren indicating the approach of a police vehicle, ambulance, fire engine, should at once give such vehicle right of way, and if necessary pull his or her vehicle to the side of the road until it has passed”.
This provision does not apply to other VIPs like Cabinet secretaries, MPs, principal secretaries, senior police officers, governors, senators, parastatal bosses and county officials.
They are not entitled to such special treatment even though they are driven by police officers. The authorities have ordered traffic police to arrest and charge drivers who flout these rules but the crackdown is yet to happen.
Police cite the influence of those targeted and say their hands are tied as they are usually not sure who is on board. “We have stopped some of the vehicles and been subject to abuse in many aspects,” said one senior officer in Nairobi.
“But there is very little we can do because those on board are police officers who are allowed to do so.”
Deputy Inspector General of Police Joel Kitili said they had received complaints about some of the vehicles that wrongly overtake with impunity and sometimes even cause accidents.
“No one is above the law. The drivers carrying VIPs who are in a hurry know what to do and how. I have reminded the traffic officers that those flouting the rules should be charged without fear or favour,” Mr Kitili said.
It is an order that has been issued before. Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery even ordered the removal of the gadgets from unauthorised cars. He made the order following growing complaints from the public over the misuse of sirens by most VIPs.
Mr Nkaissery, probably because of his sensitive docket, is among those who use a police car fitted with a siren. Almost all the vehicles flouting these rules are Government-owned.
And the elite who comprise only two per cent of the country’s population are aided by their heavily-armed bodyguards to break traffic laws with abandon, especially in Nairobi.
They have even installed sirens in their chase cars as their drivers overtake on the wrong side, unmindful of other road users.
Others switch on in-built sirens to enable them meander through traffic jams. This often happens during rush hour on some of Nairobi’s notorious roads.
Apparently, the VIPs exploit the law that allows police officers to own and use sirens on the road. But these officers usually use the gadgets to avoid traffic jams whereas the law says they should be used only in emergencies.
The drivers have resorted to rolling up their windows to avoid scrutiny from fellow police officers on the roads and some motorists.
In some instances, these cars are involved in accidents but sometimes escape because they use fake number plates “for security reasons”.
When confronted, some roll down the windows and start to use their police communication devices to justify their identities.
Former police boss Hussein Ali banned funeral vehicles from using sirens.
Kitili however cautioned motorists against obstructing vehicles that have the right of way. He cited the law, which directs that emergency vehicles with blaring sirens have right of way.
He said he had noticed motorists blocking such vehicles, some of which could be responding to emergencies. He also told hearse owners that the only people allowed flash or wail roof beacons (sirens) were drivers of police vehicles, ambulances and fire engines.
He was referring to cases where hearses use the gadgets when they are on the move.