Mirrors, Signal, Manoeuvre – The Traffic Dilemma

One of the extras I acquired in my time as an expatriate post-grad was a UK driver’s licence. I had to get a learner’s permit and go (back) to driving school. For the first two lessons, I was extremely indignant. I’d been a “licensed” driver for roughly 10 years and considered myself extremely competent. I didn’t understand why the Brits treated passing one’s driving test like we celebrate JAMB or SSCE scores. I quickly realised however that, even with my slightly-above-average knowledge of the Highway Code (my dad insisted at the time), I had picked up bad habits that I needed to un-learn, otherwise I was sure to fail the test (which only has a 45% pass rate anyway – with men testing better than women, in case anyone’s interested). Luckily, I passed on the very first attempt.

 

Bringing those “good” driving habits back made motoring in Lagos very frustrating initially but Lagos is really one of those if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them places. People blaring their horns at the slightest excuse (many commercial drivers for absolutely no reason whatsoever), flagrant disregard for road markings (especially zebra crossings), random/indiscriminate stopping on the road, no idea of lane discipline (you’re exiting left but you stay on the extreme right lane and wait until the last possible second to veer dangerously left), etc. I was therefore reasonably happy when it was announced that a “new” traffic law was about to be enacted in Lagos, particularly as it mentioned enforcing the roundabout rule (giving way to traffic on the left).

 

In spite of its draconian elements (banning any eating or drinking while driving), I have chosen to be optimistic about the new law because it will increase sanity and order on our roads. In Lagos, that can only be a good thing. I realise, of course, that over-zealous LASTMA officials and some policemen will give asinine interpretations to what actions constitute traffic offences but I think, like it happened when seatbelts and those idiotic reflective stickers were required, things will gradually rationalise. So, yes, optimism for now.

 

On the flipside however, a good law should answer more questions than it poses (CAVEAT: the law itself has not been published and all comments made by the public so far are on the sections that the government chose to highlight) and the public response shows that more needs to be done with having consultations before bills are drafted. If a government white paper (or policy document) had been drawn up and properly circulated prior to the bill itself receiving so much prominence, the thinking behind banning any sort of ingestion while driving would be clear. Now, everyone just thinks it’s silly and as a result the public isn’t fully endorsing the law.

 

Many have said the punishments for driving in a prohibited direction (“one way”) are too severe, given the potential prison term of 3 years. My first response to this was simply, don’t do it then. But my mind did a Nollywood-style flashback to the first time I drove to Lagos from Ibadan and got “arrested” by the “council task force” for a “one-way” violation. The road had no signage but, as “heegnoranz hees not heckscuze”, I still had to part with a bribe to be able to continue my journey. To convince us that this isn’t another poverty alleviation programme (for LASTMA) LASG/LASAA must therefore ensure that all roads are properly marked (they mostly are on the Island, though). We too as citizens must force the hand of government. Take and circulate pictures of the entry-points to unmarked “one-way” roads. It would also be a great idea for LASG to make it compulsory for every vehicle to have a copy of the Highway Code (which would make an excellent supplement to Complete Sports for danfo drivers’ downtime).

 

Finally, I’ve been trying to point out for some time that many of the traffic offences this new law covers are not actually new. Sometime in 2009, I saw 2 LASTMA officials shoving a driver out of his vehicle and driving it off. I knew they had the power to impound but, curious to know the extent to which they could exercise this power, I dug out the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority Law of 2004. Unsurprisingly, as it seems to appear for its successor, the law is vague on how LASTMA should “impound” a vehicle. What did surprise me was a variety of offences of which I was unaware, as well as the fact that points can be put on your license (well, theoretically, anyway). I’m reproducing a few of the offences and penalties below. Please remember that this is the old (2004) law.

 

 

VIOLATION

PENALTY

POINT

FINE

N

ADDITIONAL

Driving without a Driver’s Licence

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

Learning to drive on a major highway

3

2,000

Dislodge Driver

Driving with fake number plates

4

4,000

Impound Vehicle

Driving a vehicle with unauthorised or defective reflective number plate

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

 

 

 

 

Violation of route by commercial vehicle

2

2,000

 

 

 

 

Disobeying traffic control personnel or traffic signs

1

2,000

Disobeying traffic lights

4

5,000

 

Failure to yield to right of way of pedestrians at a zebra crossing

4

5,000

 

Failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout

2

2,500

 

 

 

 

 

Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

Smoking while driving

1

2,000

 

 

 

 

 

Tailgating an emergency vehicle

4

5,000

 

Failure of slow-moving vehicle to keep to the right lane

2

2,500

 

 

 

 

 

Assault on a Traffic Officer

4

5,000

Prosecute in court

Driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law [i.e. “one-way”]

4

25,000

Impound

Bullion vehicle driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law

4

50,000

Impound

Illegal U-Turns

2

2,000

Driver Training

Making or receiving phone calls when driving

2

2,500

 

Failure to display reflective warning triangle sign [i.e. “C-Caution”] at point of breakdown

4

10,000

 

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