The I-Must-Drive-Syndrome

Brian’s Column: The ‘I Must Drive Syndrome’ hitting Africa youth…

Monday, 12 March 2012 , Brian Bilal Mewbaze

Brian's Column: The 'I Must Drive Syndrome' hitting Africa youth...

Brian’s Column is one of our regular features giving Mr Brian Mwebaze a platform to share his experiences on his view of road safety in Africa. In this column, Brian talks about the craze hitting African youth; The ‘I must drive syndrome’ where most African youths feel it a prestige to have a car and be on the road. Brian gives us his opinion on a developing Africa.


So, it is the Road Safety hour which your mother warned you about! Shhhhshhhhshhhh…quiet! 🙂
You must all remember those times when your Mummy would be like, ‘Alright son/daughter, time to go to bed’ and yet the television keeps on with daddy and mummy watching! Fact is, I hate to say this since I am older now, but I would tip-toe back and try to watch TV again. One day, which later taught me a lesson of never accepting relatives to stay in my house; my grandmother caught me peeping. What followed is another story to talk about. For those that observed the International Women’s Day, Congrats, Felicitations, Asanteni! I was making another joke on that day by requesting to see wedding rings on those girls who claimed they were Women. Big topic to talk about, but I honestly think they should ask the United Nations to advocate for an International Girl’s day? (thinking deeply).

africa road
The number of cars on Africa’s roads has increased dramatically in the past two decades. (C) Sheila Atieno

Putting the cake on the table…
Everyone knows that the number of vehicles in developing countries to be precise, Africa has increased over the decade with incremental figures from South Africa 143 vehicles per 100,000, Algeria 128 per 100,000. Interesting to note however, is the fact that Africa’s roads remain the most dangerous!
In a continent that boasts of number of old vehicles and a number of ‘I-don’t-know-where-I-end roads’, one would hardly expect any such jaw dropping stat! In the French & English speaking countries, previously, bicycles were the most common method of transport. For the record, I remember in the early 1990’s as a kid, I witnessed a number of marriage ceremonies in which the bride and the bridegroom were traveling on a bicycle. At that time, that was the show of the village. It showed class, it showed education! The pride of the village!

bycicle and camel
In days of old, bycicles and camels were the most common form of transport.

In Arabic countries and this time I will definitely not fail to give my respects to rural Somalia (where I can trace my origins), camels were the commonest modes of transport. Camels are no-joke animals spending approximately 40 days without drinking water. Scientists explain that by the ability of the animal to burn the fat in its hump, a process which provides water, they call it homeostasis (let me save you the biology lessons). Was it cool travelling on a camel? Oh…not a joke, but it was the coolest method of transport especially if you asked the ladies. It was held (and it still does) that a man could show his love for the wife by walking and instead leave the woman to occupy the seat on the camel’s back!

road africa
In a changing Africa, young people are despearate to get on the road.

In the Modern Africa (I hate to say this) but automated vehicles have made their way into the life of the modern man. There is this ‘I-Must-Drive-Syndrome’ that has taken over African youth’s minds like a computer virus. Young people that drive are seen as classy, flashy, stylish, smart, cool, educated… For teenagers, a car symbolizes freedom, adventure, instant cool and perhaps a hint of sex appeal. (put your hand up if you think it’s a lie)
On the contrary, In the developed world like Copenhagen, Denmark, you will find a hell of bicycles in town being used by lawyers, health professionals, politicians and interestingly professors. A number of students also come to university on bicycles. My point here is not that we (in Africa) should go back to our old times! That may even find the lasting cure to baldness by avoiding this syndrome of every youth wanting to drive a car.
But while having a car of their own may be every young person’s dream, new research shows that easy access to an automobile can also increase the risk of crashing it. Compared to teenagers who shared a vehicle with their parents, teenagers with their own car were twice as likely to be involved in an crash, according to a study published today in the journal Pediatrics. A related study from the same authors found that parenting styles can impact a teenager’s risk of crashing. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in 16- to 17-year-olds, claiming over 1,800 lives and injuring over 166,000 each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Road traffic crashes from pedestrian crashes, motorcycle and other road crashes are the leading killer of young people in the world, scary!

Malawi is one of the most underdeveloped countries in Africa, road safety is also underdeveloped making it one of the most dangerous places to be a road user.

And just in case you didn’t know, the most dangerous country in the world in which to drive is Malawi, in Southeastern Africa. Drivers and their passengers are 30 times more likely to be injured in an crash or collision here than in the United States. Malawi was first settled during the 10th century and remained under native rule until 1891 when it was colonized by the British. The country is one of the world’s least developed and most densely populated countries, and has a low life expectancy and high infant mortality of 32 years and 650/100,000 respectively!
If you made a clear analysis, you would find the young drivers don’t have a valid driving permit (that is if they have one), their knowledge about car maintenance and road safety knowledge is little to none about say, The Highway Code! Their experience on the road is wanting.. Shall the African Youth be saved from all the dangers associated with playing around the fire of road safety? The big answer starts with the individual behavior change, good road infrastructure, vehicle maintenance, appropriate laws and good enforcement; these together are known as the road safety system and allow for all round road safety. Gone are the days when we depended on camels to get from A to B, although some places still use animals for transport. When’s that last time you heard of a camel crash? As the times change, our dependency on motor-vehicles has also increased but with it is required a full development of road safety systems. As less developed countries develop, so should road safety systems develop in proportion.
While there seems to be no change in the near future to the I Must Drive Syndrome, we can be reflective on days when our lives didn’t depend on cars so much! Anyway, I am off to get my driving license! Haha #StaySafe


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