On that fateful day in March 2011, I never knew that a tragedy that would shake and disrupt my life was going to take place. The day had begun well. My career was flying high like a kite. I was a darling of my bosses.

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A few months ago, I had just acquired my first car. I walked into my humble closet and chose the best suit. I then picked a colorful shirt which I ironed with passion.

I had just bought new shoes. This journey was going to be a special occasion so I had to look new like a baby fresh from the womb. I had never driven a distance longer than 100 Kms. Nairobi roads were more familiar. But armed with confidence, I decided to embark on the long journey. Looking back, I admit that I was a fool. I picked my driving license but just before I stepped out of the house, I knelt down and prayed to the heavens.

I used to work for a financial institution as a Marketing officer. My JD was to bring in new clients for the savings account of the institution. I would travel to different parts of the country where our clients were found. I had never driven alone before. But on this fateful day, I decided to embark on the journey alone. This particular station had not been visited before by anyone from our office so I knew that I was going to have a bumper harvest.

In retrospect, maybe I was driven to prove a point. Because I had worked under the shadow of someone senior for two years, I felt like I needed to be the captain of my ship. To prove a point that this pupa was going to break out from the shell and fly freely like a butterfly. I needed the organization to notice my unique strengths. That I could do this on my own.

I had just emptied my savings to acquire a second-hand manual car, registration number KAA. The excitement of a first-time car owner overwhelmed me. I loved the car like a man loves a new girlfriend. The car wasn’t in a bad shape. It was fuel efficient. I did repairs, bought new rims and I did a new interior. I painted it with my favorite color; sky blue. I used a fortune I had saved to bring the car to a better shape.

Tragedy strikes

As I drove on the Athi river-Namanga highway, just a few kilometers before Isinya, tragedy struck. Like a sudden lightning, I was hit. Just 6 months before the fateful day, we had buried my elder brother called Victor. We were still mourning.

He was only 25 years old. A man who had his life violently snatched while on board a Mash bus from Kisumu to Nairobi. The road accident occurred in Gilgil. Just before the junction to Gilgil town. It was at night. The rain was pounding heavily. Visibility was poor as we were later told. The bus hit a lorry that had stalled on the way. The violent impact threw him out of the bus where he was seated in the front seat. The impact was so fatal, and as if death had decided to snatch him violently, he was thrown under the bus and dropped like a hot brick on the road. When we went to pick his body from Gilgil mortuary, his head was crushed. His strong body was broken in several places.

I felt a streak of cold fear run through my spine. In my life, I had never lost a close relative. I was only 22 then, why was I being inducted to grief in such a cruel manner? We were a modest family who had found strength from God throughout our life. We had not stolen money from anyone. We weren’t under any investigations. We have a church in our rural home and our family introduced Christianity to this village. He was a quiet man. The quietest in our family. Yet his death was now tearing us apart. He had just built his simba. He was returning to Nairobi to get more money to finish it. He hadn’t even slept in it. This house now reminded us of the fragility of life. One second you are alive, the other one you are dead.

He worked hard with his hands. His only motivation was to lift his family from the abyss of poverty. We had just had a discussion that related to changing the fortunes of our family. Before our words arrived before the throne of God, he was already snatched from us. We were now picking him up as a body. Transferring his cold shattered body to St. Mary’s mortuary in Gilgil. Yet a few hours ago, he had just left home alive. What wrong did we do that warranted such a painful experience? Why did God judge us so harshly like that? These were the questions that ran through our mind.

Six months later, our family was about to congregate in the valley of the shadow of death. How could the grim reaper, carrying his large scythe and clothed in a black cloak with a hood be so cruel to demand yet another young man’s blood? From a family that he had crushed and whipped with his  scythe? Our tears hadn’t dried. Victor’s grave had not even dried. The smell of his death hadn’t even evaporated. Yet the grim reaper was about to hand over to us another bill? Didn’t he know that we were bankrupt? That our bank was in negative?

I didn’t see the rocks that had protruded onto the road. It was a hotel’s entry. And the habit of placing rocks to mark the entry to a hotel was almost causing a tragedy. I tried to swerve to avoid the rocks. What I didn’t do was to look at the oncoming vehicles. It happened in a split second. I couldn’t return back the car to my lane as fast to avoid the collision. I can’t remember what happened next but my car had crashed head-on with another vehicle. A group had already gathered around us. Like vultures around a carcass, we were soon surrounded by a mammoth crowd.

I found myself by the roadside with a bleeding mouth. I had hit my lower lip on the steering wheel. The occupants of the other car were reeling in pain. Both cars were in bad shape. I couldn’t believe that we had walked out of the wreckage with minor injuries only. Thank God we all had put on our safety belts. I was about to alter the lives of these strangers forever. There was a throbbing pain in my heart. I was asking God why he had abandoned me yet I had prayed for journey mercies.

Though the injuries didn’t seem so severe, I couldn’t hold back my tears as I was being driven to the hospital by the well-wishers who stopped to help. Through my hands, I was just about to inflict the pain that my family went through a few months ago. Through my car, I was about to make children I didn’t even know to be orphans. Yet that’s what’s happening on our roads every day. Due to human error, we send more people to the grave through road accidents.

South Africa

Fast forward August 2016, I find myself in a foreign land. I’m in George, Western Cape in South Africa to try the new Ford Ranger automatic 2.2. It’s a ride and drive so we are assembled at the airport’s cafeteria to sign indemnity forms and take breakfast. It’s sunny but the weather is as cold as a freezer. We are ushered into the parking lot where we are paired into two.

 

Jackson Biko and I end up in one vehicle plus an instructor.  The wounds of that 2011 accident begin to rise. I fear to be in the driver’s seat so I urge Biko to start driving then we will swap along the way. During that time, I pray for strength from above. It’s not that I have never driven after the accident, I have. Severally. Long distances. But the mere thought that there are people in this car, plus I am driving a brand new car with a zero mileage scared the hell out of me.

Seated on that brand new Ford Ranger 2.2 automatic, Jackson Biko on the driving wheel, I race back almost 5 years ago. I begin to dissect the accident and the aftermath. In the wreckage, I try to collect pieces of lessons.

Accident statistics

What if I just saved my money and bought a brand new car? What if I continued to save, say Sh20,000 a month and I also hustled hard, maybe I would have afforded a brand new car. Like the FORD Ranger which has advanced technology features including SYNC®2, Lane Keeping Aid, Adaptive Cruise Control, Driver Impairment Monitor, Front and Rear Park Assist. And the car which I had spent a fortune on had steering wheel issues. So I was later told by the police officer in charge of my case at the Kajiado law courts who ordered a diagnostics to be done to firm up the evidence he was building against me for reckless driving. The FORD Ranger driving experience is enhanced by an electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system, which provides precise steering with a natural and confident feel. With EPAS, steering is light and manageable for low-speed maneuverings, such as parking, and precise at higher speeds.

According to the National Transport Safety Authority, over 12,000 crashes occurs annually. This translates to over 33 crashes and 8.5 fatalities daily. Think about that, 8 lives stop breathing every day because of human error. Kenya loses at least 3,000 people annually and 9,000 serious injuries from road traffic accidents.

Yet 85% of these accidents are as a result of human error. Only 11 %  are due to mechanical condition and 4 % due to the state of roads. Kenya loses Sh45 billion annually through road accidents, that excludes the actual loss of life as a result of road accidents.

What if I didn’t go through the short cut of purchasing an old run down car which had mechanical issues that weren’t detected before the accident occurred? Would I have caused that accident?

The use of phones while driving has contributed to many accidents on our roads. When I craned my neck from the back seat, I saw technology that would have been massively helpful if it was in my car. Behind the steering wheel, there is a dual-TFT instrument cluster which provides drivers with information about the vehicle, as well as entertainment and cell phone features at a glance. You don’t need to lose focus while trying to stretch your hands to adjust the volume or even touch your phone.

If Kenyans would just be disciplined enough to buy new cars and drive safely with decorum on our roads. If we would just practice delayed gratification where we save and own brand new cars, the pollution levels in our urban areas would go down considerably. Currently, according to a UNEP report released in May, 13,000 Kenyans die annually due to respiratory complications caused by pollution. What if we carried along designated drivers so that we don’t drive while we are drunk?

While we cannot always blame the mechanical state of the car we are driving, first-in-class driver aids including Lane Keeping Alert and Lane Keeping Aid, Adaptive Cruise Control with Forward Alert, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, Driver Impairment Monitor, as well as Front and Rear Park Assist in the new Ford Ranger 2.2 automatic would have come in handy.

As we parked our cars for a lunch break in a wine field, I couldn’t wait to switch back to the passenger’s seat. The over 100 Kms I did was enough to prove that fear is indeed all in the head.

 

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Author: Dannish Odongo

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