Driving in Nairobi…the Dummies’ guide

Somebody once said that if you manage to drive in Nairobi, then you my friend, can drive just about anywhere in this world. Well, the person was referring to the maddening nature of Nairobi driving and traffic as a whole, where all rules are broken and the rogue drivers are celebrated for their ‘exemplary’ driving skills.
Like they say; if you go to Rome, do what Romans do, I decided to dedicate this piece to all the green and inexperienced drivers who may find driving in Nairobi a bit odd, if not downright madness. I took some time- both on the road, and off the road, to observe a few things here and there, and thought I should come up with a few tips that I am sure you will need. Read them carefully and thank me later.

Rule 1. Overlap, everyone is doing it.
One of the biggest sins in Nairobi driving is overlapping. My advice, just do it! Everyone else is doing it anyway. Here’s how to overlap: you find yourself in maddening traffic (say Magadi Road), it is bumper to bumper, but alas, the opposite lane is as clear as a January sky. What do you do? Take a deep breath and swerve your car towards the opposite lane, and step on the accelerator like your life depends on it. Ignore the blaring hooting from other ‘patient’ drivers you leave behind. Look out for a hungry cop waiting like a vulture for wanton drivers like you. Most important, look out for that lazy driver who leaves a sizeable gap between his car and the car in front of him. Squeeze yourself in between before the now malicious driver closes in the gap.

Rule 2. Always change lanes at round-abouts, other drivers will understand- whether they like it or not!
So you are on the first lane (they count them from left) and your destination requires you to be on lane four. Traffic has started moving and you are wondering how to get to lane 4. Worry not. Just flow with the traffic. Once you get to roundabout, change lanes. It doesn’t matter if you indicate or not. Change to the second lane, to the third, and finally to the fourth. Other drivers will understand, no, they must!

Rule 3. On the highway, change lanes haphazardly. Actually, do a zig-zag with your car. So much fun!
You are on the beloved Thika Superhighway on your way to town, driving at a normal speed of 100 km/h/. Suddenly, there is this ragged jalopy in front of you going at 30km/h. By all means, don’t lower your speed. Just glance at the side mirror, it doesn’t matter is the car on the other lane behind you is close by or not. If it is less than 10 meters behind you, jump to that lane. Ignore the flashing of lights or hooting. If you are not comfortable on that lane, or if that driver keeps hooting and flashing lights at you, jump to the next lane, or go back to the lane you were before. The other drivers behind you will just accept and move on.

Rule 4. All doors open to courtesy? Please!
It is not a show of gentleman-ness, but a show of weakness, so be done with it! If you want to enter a junction, courtesy demands you flash lights to ask the other driver for permission to enter the junction. Well, don’t do that. The road doesn’t belong to him, nor his father, so just make sure he is a distance from the junction and then ‘whoop!’ enter the junction. If you are in traffic, and there is no way you can overlap, and the other lane is moving, move to that lane. It doesn’t matter if you indicate or not. Don’t peep or give a hand signal to ask for permission. Just force your way into that lane. You may have difficulty here as there is some malicious, law- abiding drivers, but there’s always that one gullible driver, mostly a lady. If you are an experienced driver, the other drivers automatically become gullible.

Rule 5. Make wrong turns in case of traffic, bribe that cop waiting for you at the turn. You are in a hurry.
When overlapping and forcing your way into the moving lane would not work and you just heard on radio that the alternative route has no traffic, don’t curse and beat yourself up for taking the wrong route. Just make an illegal turn. This especially works for Kenyatta Avenue- that area around Serena. If coming to town is hectic, just take the outer lane; look out for oncoming cars and make that illegal turn and you are on the other side of Kenyatta Avenue! The pavement is not too high, so even a Vitz can ‘cross’. If there is a cop waiting for you at the junction that leads to State House Road, he will definitely stop you, but Sh 200 ‘lunch’ will get you off the hook.
That, my friends, is in a nutshell on how to drive in Nairobi. Of course there are several other things that I have left out- such as hurling insults at drivers who cross your path- but that comes naturally, with time. Have fun driving in Nairobi; hope to see you on the road soon.
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