There are always new things to learn. After a late-night drive on the Northern Corridor, mostly in western Kenya, I discovered a fascinating new world of night travel etiquette.
I quickly noticed that regular motorists didn’t like to spend much time behind long-distance trucks in the night. My novice mind told me that while they were slow, they were the best bet; they were usually a couple, and as frequent users of the corridor, know it well.
Then there was behaviour I couldn’t comprehend. Some fellow comes cruising past very fast in a Subaru or Toyota Landcruiser, and in seconds you see his taillights disappearing in the distance. However, a few kilometres later, you catch up with them. They are driving slower than you, and let you pass, only to blast past five or so kilometres later. Having established they were not intending carjackers, all that was left was to explain their seemingly erratic behaviour.
On a journey marred by many stops, I gathered the courage to inquire into it. Turns out, while night trucks offer comfort in numbers, they are also more frequent targets by road bandits because they are carrying precious cargo. You jack a small car, the driver could be a police or military officer who could shoot you in the face. Then, you could find the fellow is carrying potatoes and maize flour in the boot, not really a game-changing bounty.
Second, while truck cargo is precious, it is also insured, so a driver has less incentive to get killed defending it. Also, they are hardened fellows who have seen it all. They aren’t about to jump out of a lorry ferrying $500,000 worth of goods to help you fend off someone trying to steal your small wallet.
That settled, it left the issue of seemingly erratic driving. Turns out there is a method to it. Depending on the kind of thieves, usually, they will attack the car in front, knowing the ones following will turn and flee, or the one at the back, because the ones at the front will not turn back to help it.
Good long-distance night drivers take turns being at the front and back to share the risk. However, it is the front that matters the most. If you travel the road, you need to put in your time opening the path, placing your neck on the line for the team. Once I figured that out and did my bit, I got a place at the table, and they stopped buzzing and overtaking me aggressively.
Driving Kenya’s highways is probably not good for those who have dentures and wear contact lenses. There are so many massive road humps and endless rumble strips, if you aren’t a regular user of the stretch, you will get thrown up in the air and shaken quite a bit.
This is why when you drive at night, look for the car that hits its brake lights well ahead and doesn’t suffer calamity at the humps. That fellow is a veteran of the stretch. After you have done your duty at the front, be sure to stay behind him. That’s how you get home without a contact lens that popped.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]