Want to make me happy? Rethink new traffic fines

Yesterday I woke up to the news that actor and comedian Robin Williams, a man for all intents and purposes with the world at his feet, had passed away.
Sunny Ntayombya
Sunny Ntayombya

Yesterday I woke up to the news that actor and comedian Robin Williams, a man for all intents and purposes with the world at his feet, had passed away.

According to police reports, he had committed suicide. Tributes coming in eulogise him as an Academy Awards-nominated actor who made people smile whenever he performed.

I am pretty sure that a lot of people cannot understand why, with all the fame and fortune he had, it wasn’t enough.

I feel that we are trained from birth to assume that success equals to happiness. Have enough food on your table? Be happy. Have a lovely and supportive spouse? Be happy. Send your kids to Green Hills? Be happy. Have a shiny car and swanky house? Praise the Lord and be happy! But what happens if all this doesn’t make you happy?

Religion attempts to fill this void and looking around this dear country of mine, I’d say that we have proved to be fertile ground for those attempting to bring us closer to some supreme heavenly being.

And while I’m sure that religion has a role to play in ensuring people’s happiness, perhaps we need to take a more professional approach to this issue. Instead of asking people to suck it up or go pray, maybe we should suggest therapy.

Depression is real and we cannot continue imagining that it is a ‘white man’s curse’ because it isn’t. It can strike down anyone, rich or poor. It is not a respecter of social class.

And on the topic of happiness, I must admit that I am happy that the government is ‘tightening the noose on traffic offenders’ as this newspaper’s headline read yesterday.

It goes without saying that something needed to be done about the carnage on our highways. But looking at social media reactions to the proposed measures, legitimate concerns need to be addressed before these measures become law.

For example, driving without ‘contrôle technique’ will earn you a fine of Rwf225,000 up from Rwf25,000 while speeding and driving without a license will set up back a whopping Rwf450,000.

While some people worried that the exorbitant fines would lead to more hit and runs, the vast majority of commentators believe that corruption will simply increase without necessarily increasing road security.

For instance, whereas one would pay a Frw10, 000 bribe to mollify police for driving without ‘controle technique’, the worry is that people will ‘pay’ five times as much. Ensuring that the only thing that actually improves is a corrupt officer’s illegal take home package. 

Do not get me wrong, I’m all for punishing those that break traffic rules. However simply increasing fines (and potential bribes) is a poor substitute for better road skills.

Traffic fines will not improve a driver’s poor decision-making skills and improve their defensive driving. A hefty fine will not stop a crazy, zigzagging ‘moto’ rider from suddenly careering to the side without indicating.

And neither will it teach pedestrians to cross the road only after looking both ways. I’m pretty sure that the few times I’ve almost been involved in an accident, the errant driver probably had all their documents.

So, here is my suggestion; an easier, decentralised vehicle mechanical inspection process that encourages drivers to actually want to go and get the process out of the way.

These should be permanent. 

I try to figure out why there was only one such centre in Kigali in vain because it simply doesn’t make any sense.  Why can’t each district have its own? 

It can’t be a money issue because I’m pretty sure that such a facility would be a moneymaking venture.

Secondly, if you want less people driving without a permit, perhaps it should be easier to get one. I know that the police has tried to streamline the process, but how efficient is it when people still have to sit in a stadium all day to get a provisional license, while cramming aspects of the traffic code that they will NEVER EVER use in real life?

And, lastly, if one does get fined, what is the recourse if you feel that you were unfairly maligned? It is not as if traffic police have enough speed guns or video cameras proving that an infraction was committed.

I mean, if you are going to attempt to make me pay Rwf90,000 for using my phone while driving, you better be able to prove that I did.

I understand that the issue is complicated, but fining all and sundry is hardly a solution.

The writer is an editor at The New Times

Twitter: @sannykigali