#HHNBO: Making Kenya’s traffic laws accessible

January’s meetup explores tech solutions to give citizens quick access to key traffic laws

(Pic credit: Code for Africa)

By Naima Mungai

Commuters are stopped daily by traffic police for offences — anything from smoking in your private vehicle to not wearing a safety belt in a matatu. The Kenyan Traffic Act is clear about our rights, obligations and offences, but how many road users are aware of what these are?

Does a traffic officer have the right to remove your insurance sticker, detain your driving licence or enter your car and how do road users have these answers at their finger tips?

Angela Wanjohi from Nairobi Legal Hackers led a mini-hackathon to seek technology solutions.

Legal Hackers is a global movement of lawyers, policymakers, technologists and academics who develop creative solutions to pressing issues at the intersection of law and technology.

Wanjohi started by reviewing the traffic act — providing participants with key legal information, as well as tips on how to abide by the law in order to deter the illegal activities of the traffic police such as bribes.

What the traffic act says

The latest amendment of the Traffic Act was in 2018. Kenya’s traffic act is divided into obligations, offences and details about police intervention, court proceedings and legal process. The traffic act is easily accessible through the Kenya Law site, where all the acts are listed and can be easily searched. Wanjoh clarified on some the traffic rules, such as the law applying to tinted windows, which states:

“A person shall not drive or operate a public service vehicle that is fitted with tinted windows or tinted windscreens.”

Note that personal vehicles are not mentioned in the law. This could be a point of defence if one were arrested.

The problem

The act is quite long and may not be easily understood by many due to the legal jargon. In fact, citizens are often taken advantage of by police and other motorists because of their lack of understanding of what the law says.

Though not all problems relating to the traffic law and its implementation can be solved through convenient access to the information, it is still important for road users to have the information near. Accessing information like this is especially necessary when one is arrested, but also for general personal reference and confirmation.

What has been done

There are great examples from all over the world of how innovative thinking and tech has been used to demystify traffic laws. Nyaaya.in is a free repository of India’s central and state laws, explained in simple English with interactive guides and visualisations, with the purpose of providing people with the right legal answers. Judicata.com has introduced Clerk — the first software to read and analyse legal briefs, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses and identifying the ways in which they can be improved.

The Kenyan government recently introduced an mPesa pay bill number, 206206, for paying instant fines for minor traffic offences, although its frequency of use is yet to be determined. Minor traffic offences such as talking on the phone while driving or exceeding speed limits are now fined between Sh500 and Sh10,000 after the transport minister published penalties in the Kenya Gazette.

What can we do?

A participant suggested using a chatbot to provide quick information on traffic laws in response to questions that users ask. She said it would be convenient, would not require downloading an app, and can use frequently asked questions (FAQs) for quick responses. Links to learn more could also be included if the information is not available on the bot. This suggestion prompted a discussion about the vast number of users who use feature phones, and how a USSD version of the same chatbot would be a necessary option.

Participants also suggested a quick loan platform to pay for traffic fines instantly and conveniently. A phone app, the platform would link to the user’s car and store data on speed, routes and other metrics to provide the user with evidence should they be accused of over-speeding. It would also send alerts to the user to slow down when entering an area with a lower speed limit.

At the end of the session, two groups presented their research and projects. The ALX team presented their research on the traffic situation in Nairobi and suggested using an electronic road pricing system to control the traffic. We discussed the solution and recommendations were given to the team to improve and extend their research. The second team, iCut presented their project on an app that will help connect girls affected by FGM to legal and medical assistance.

About Us

The worlds of hackers and journalists are coming together, as reporting goes digital and internet companies become media empires.

Journalists call themselves “hacks,” someone who can churn out words in any situation. Hackers use the digital equivalent of duct tape to whip out code.

Hacker-journalists try and bridge the two worlds. Hacks/Hackers Africa aims to bring all these people together — those who are working to help people make sense of our world. It’s for hackers exploring technologies to filter and visualise information, and for journalists who use technology to find and tell stories. In the age of information overload and collapse of traditional business models for legacy media, their work has become even more crucial.

Code for Africa, the continent’s largest #OpenData and civic technology initiative, recognises this and is spearheading the establishment of a network of Hacks/Hackers chapters across Africa to help bring together pioneers for collaborative projects and new ventures.

Follow Hacks/Hackers Africa on Twitter and Facebook and join the Hacks/Hackers community group today.