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Most Drivers Treat Matatus With Caution
And Daring Matatu Drivers Love This!

Coastweek -- Last week I spent the whole article explaining how I had set up a defensive driving operation in a company I worked in many years back, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

However, the original discussion was supposed to be about Kachumbari’s assertion that he had seen an attempt by matatu drivers and owners to inculcate some form of defensive driving culture in their ecosystem.

The take that I got from Kachumbari was that in their view offence was defence.

The objective of any matatu driver or owner is to get a passenger to their destination as quickly as possible without killing them or writing off the asset.

So, it is pure focus on the customer’s wish. So far so good.

To fulfil this, the matatu driver has to be able to move quickly through traffic irrespective of what is going on around them.

It is this drive that pushes matatu drivers to behave the way they do.

Any space that moves them forward has to be occupied even if it is another lane.

They will force their way into any open position irrespective of the risk.

Courteous drivers like most of us always leave a small space between us and the vehicle in front.

This is not acceptable in matatu defensive driving.

They will push to occupy that space and immediately another space opens up they will abandon the space in front of you and head to the next one that moves them further ahead.

The other offensive style is to cut across to the fastest lane or to the one that is most likely to move.

The matatu driver is very good at spotting which lane is moving.

They spend their whole time doing that.

The conductor is also a specialist in this.

There is no formal communication between the diver and his conductor in the way we would traditionally do it by voice, but, according to Kachumbari, they have their own way of doing it.

It is reminiscent of the jungle drum mode of communication.

By banging in a specific way on the body of the matatu, the sound generated has a meaning to the driver.

Part of it is to tell the driver when to stop to let a passenger off or when the conductor sees a potential fare and requires the driver to respond by stopping at the appropriate place.

It is uncanny how the driver, without knowing exactly where the passenger is, will somehow always find themselves right where the passenger is through the guidance of the banging of the bodywork!

Another part of the banging is to inform the driver when to cut across traffic to another lane that the conductor has spotted that is moving faster than the lane they are in.

Sometimes on sees a matatu start to cut across and then suddenly return to the lane that it had been in.

There is also communication between the driver and conductor to make this happen.

The place that matatus are most active in this offensive type of driving is when approaching a roundabout on a multiple lane road.

The inner most lane (the closest to the centre of the road) is normally the fastest moving as one approaches a roundabout.

As one gets closer, the matatus make an acute cut across the lanes so that by the time they get to the roundabout, they are on the outermost lane which normally tends to move quicker because the vehicles in that lane can turn in two directions and generally means that this is the fastest moving lane when there is traffic congestion.

The cops controlling traffic at the roundabouts generally tend to allow vehicles turning left to filter left when there is traffic on the roundabout.

Matatu drivers know this so they target those lanes as they get to the roundabout.

However. Instead the matatus normally get into this lane not to turn left but so that they can surge forward to either go straight across or even turn to the right – by cutting across traffic on the roundabout!!

So, the matatu drivers way of operation fulfils their business objective of getting the passenger to the destination as quickly as possible.

The “without killing them” or “writing off the asset” bit is achieved purely by impunity.

The matatu drivers know that an average driver will not challenge a matatu that has little or no insurance as the process of getting redress in accident will be tedious and might not yield any return.

Most drivers treat matatus with caution – and the matatu drivers love this!

This creates masses of room for them to be as offensive as they wish.

It also means that they are unlikely to have accidents that are fatal.

The icing on the cake in the matter of defensive driving is that matatu owners are not happy with the number of small knocks that their vehicles get in their day to day business so the emerging trend is for matatu owners to add scuffing panels to the corners of the matatu and also along the sides at around bonnet height of the average saloon car. 

These panels are bolted on top of the normal matatu body and they are meant to absorb small prangs and scratches at around the common height of contact with other vehicles.

These panels are the ones that are removed and replaced after may of these types of encounters instead of having to do patches of body work.

This is an ingenious way of accepting that these kinds of things will happen and working to minimise the cost of rehabilitation.

It is in a way of defence against major damage

As Kachumbari says, perhaps this should be called defensive driving bodywork.

 

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