Could the Self-Driven Car Survive Nairobi Traffic Jams?

Traffic snarl-ups are the order of the day. They just don’t occur in New York or Shanghai, but also in the thin streets of Kinshasa, Mogadishu, and most importantly Nairobi. With the local government having tried a couple of things to ease things out in vain, it would be the right time to turn our attention into new scientific inventions with hopes of unlocking these expensive and time consuming gridlocks.

Drivers as the bottleneck

Inasmuch as we blame the incapability of road networks and label them the limitation in our transport system, considerable amount of research has proof that car driver behaviours have a huge impact on the smooth flow of traffic. Overlapping, overtaking at the wrong places and over speeding all create worst-case scenarios on our roads. Doing away with these ‘driver driven’ mistakes sounds like an excellent way to easing our traffic jams – or at least so is it in the mind of Google’s Chris Urmson.

Google self-driven cars

Google owns a fleet of more than 20 self-driven cars and has driven these around for almost a million miles in the last six years. In these years, Google boasts of only 11 minor accidents most of which they attribute to human driver mistakes.


Most of the accidents are from behind or T-Bone hits from human drivers defaulting traffic rules. Applying that in Kenya, it could be either a matatu driver overlapping or a government official driving through an intersection without thinking of the traffic lights. Since the on-board computers could never do such an abomination, developers argue that the roads would be safer and more predictable.

The case of autonomous trucks

As Google have been busy getting intimate with reckless drivers, truck designers have been testing the next generation of trucks in a quieter neighbourhood. To them, long distance reliability and efficiency is the key to making that perfect truck. Their idea of automated driving is better. It involves networking vehicles next to each other.

In this way, the new trucks will know where their ‘friends’ are on the road at any given time. They know the speeds and any velocity changes since each truck broadcasts to its neighbours before making such adjustments. Apply this to real life and you get smooth traffic as if a single-minded driver is controlling everything.

Would this save the Streets of Nairobi?

No. We don’t think so. At least not for the time being. We are too unpredictable a city to work with limited algorithm. There are the usual human instincts debates that plague automation.

  • When would the car find it right to crash into a parked tuk tuk at the expense of a pedestrian who just jumped onto the road?
  • How will it know crashing into a lamppost to prevent two buses full of passenger from colliding head on is moral?
  • What if it decides to kill your father at the expense of that bus full of passengers, how would you feel?

With the playing ground full of panicked drivers and hasty pedestrians, it is hard enough for the most experienced driver to stay safe on the streets. With the almost a million miles on Google’s cars already blaming this unpredictability, it is clear that we will first have to change very fiber of our society, or maybe change all our human-driven cars, get autonomous ones and ban all pedestrians from crisscrossing the roads as they please.

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