Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Letter from Butiama: Driving tips

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 1st May 2005.

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With the subject of politics - and especially next Wednesday's conference for the nomination of the presidential candidate for Chama cha Mapinduzi in almost every one's mind* - I turn to a non-political subject, driving. These are practical suggestions to make your driving safer and with few surprises, especially if you drive on long distances.

This is not the check-your-water-and-oil-before-you-drive type of advice. It is advice you probably won't get from your driving school. It comes from one who has driven for almost twenty-five years with only one serious accident to his credit.

I have yet to meet a driver who admits he is substandard. So the first rule of driving is: before you even turn on the ignition you have to believe in yourself; if you don't, no one else will. Consider yourself the best driver in the world; what you lack you'll gain with experience. Don't take this literally though, you need to have some basic driving lessons before you hit the road although I know a few people who learnt how to drive after obtaining their driving licences.

The second rule is don't give rides to strangers, especially men. There are far more men with criminal intentions than women with similar character. The results of studies around the world show that far more many men are convicted of crimes than women. For Britain in 1984 the figure was 86 percent. If you have a weak heart for helping those in need I suggest you give rides only to women, but be weary of beautiful women. Sometimes, behind a beautiful female face stands an ugly male face with not so socially acceptable intentions.

I suggest that the least dangerous stranger you can carry is an old woman. Better still, women with children. Even a woman with criminal intentions will probably leave her child home before attemtping to hijack a car.

Rule three: avoid stopping to help a person who seems to be injured and is lying on the road. While driving from Mwanza to Dodoma last November I came across a roadblock at night and a man dressed in civilian clothes emerged with a sub-machine gun. I assumed he was a policeman because he did not point the gun at me to demand money. Before I drove off he cautioned that the 40-kilometre section to Dodoma was not safe and asked me, "Do you know the rules for night driving?"

"Such as?" I asked.
"Such as, if you find someone lying on the road, what will you do?" he asked.
I replied, "I would drive past him and return tomorrow to check whether he is still there."
"Drive on," he said, "you know the rules."

Rule four: drive as fast as you want when you are alone. You have a right to risk your life if that pleases you but the moment you have a passenger on board show a little respect for the preference of most human beings to remain alive forever. I broke that rule once but have not regretted it. I drove from Songea to Dar es Salaam with a passenger at unusually high speeds throughout the journey. About halfway through the journey we reached the Kitonga Hills where we stopped for a few minutes to buy roasted maize at the roadside. About 20 minutes earlier we overtook two passenger buses which on reaching the same spot where we bought maize were ambushed by armed bandits who shot and wounded a truck driver.

When we heard the news of the ambush the next day we "agreed" that whatever made me drive unusually fast the previous day saved us from from an unpleasant encounter with armed bandits.

I should probably add that, sometimes, excessive speeding can be used to avoid dangerous situations (I recall this from my driving lessons twenty five years ago). It is an irony that sometimes it is possible to risk your life to save your life.


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