Kenya: City Motorists Besieged By SUVs With Illegal Emergency Lights

23 February 2021

You have probably encountered them on the highway and perhaps hurried to give way.

Kenyan roads are now full of civilian-owned sports utility vehicles that are illegally fitted with red-and-blue police emergency lights on the front grills.

Drivers of these vehicles often switch the lights on to wade through traffic, overlap, double park, park illegally, drive past curfew hours and do anything that gives them privilege over other road users.

In an interview with, Nairobi Traffic Commandant, Joshua Omukata, said police would soon embark on a crackdown on these SUVs.

"They are a menace. Not everybody should have them. We shall work on them," he said. While a few years ago motorists would buy a special license for the lights from some crooked officers, today, many are just affixing them on their vehicles without documentation.

A motorist who has the lights fitted on his Toyota Wish, has had special treatment on the road on several occasions.

"One day, I was overlapping with the lights on. I normally switch them off when I see policemen but on this occasion, the officer stopped the other vehicles and ensured that I had my way. It was a close shave but still welcome," he recalled.

Hearing sirens

Under Traffic Rule 83, drivers should give way upon hearing sirens indicating the approach of police vehicles, ambulances or fire engines. Under the NTSA Highway Code, drivers should give right of way to the presidential motorcade.

Six years ago, then-Interior Cabinet Secretary, the late Joseph Nkaissery, ordered a crackdown on illegal emergency lights and sirens. The order was extended to passenger vehicles with horns resembling sirens.

Citing the Traffic Act, the minister said only vehicles used by the President, Deputy President, the police, ambulances and fire engines could be fitted with sirens.

"Any other vehicle which does not fall in any of the above three classes should not be fitted with a siren for whatever purposes," he said.

Influential figures, including former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and businessman Paul Kobia, were some of the affected after the sirens on their vehicles were confiscated.

On May 30, 2019, following public outcry on the inconvenience caused to other motorists by VIP and GK vehicles, Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai issued a directive granting special road clearance to a select list of VIPs.

Those accorded the privilege were classified into five categories. The first had the President, Deputy President, First Lady, and Cabinet Secretaries for Interior, Defence and Foreign Affairs and Interior PS.

Ambulances and fire brigades

The second had the Inspector-General of Police, Deputy Inspectors of the National Police Service, Chief of Defence Forces and service commanders while category three comprised speakers of the National Assembly, Senate and Majority leaders.

Retired presidents and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga were in the fourth category while ambulances and fire brigades were put in category five.

A few days later, the IG added the Chief Justice to the list of VIPs. "All other vehicles are expected to follow the normal traffic flow. We shall arrest drivers flouting traffic rules, especially those overlapping," Mutyambai warned.

The emergency lights have flooded the market, making it easy for motorists to access them, especially in downtown Nairobi.

Some are sold as "Police light Led bar, Federal Diplomatic" for as little as Sh8,000 with an extra Sh300 for delivery. Another online shop was retailing a different set of Red/Blue LED lights for Sh3,000.

Further investigations by the Nation also showed that there were private citizens who, upon payment of Sh10,000, were issued with a license allowing them to use the lights on the roads.

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