By Machel Waikenda
To start us off, please take note that the traffic cameras mounted within the Nairobi CBD are now fully operational.
This means that if you break any traffic laws (overrun the red lights, make U and other wrong turns, overtake in restricted areas, enter a street through a ‘No Entry’ point or pick passengers at wrong points, among other common offences) the camera will capture your vehicle’s registration plate and a warrant of arrest could be issued.
And, mind you, the cameras never go off. Take note further that since there will be a camera record of all these acts, a ‘Not Guilty’ plea in court may have no leg to stand on. Road transport is the most used mode of communication globally. But serious challenges abound in all countries regarding how to tackle the never-ending deaths on the roads.
In Kenya, hardly a week passes without a significant number of victims being added to the macabre totem pole of fatal crashes on our highways.
Scores of passengers, motorists, pedestrians and cyclists are killed, immobilised, maimed or severely injured in what are clearly avoidable accidents.
The most recent, as at the time of filing this article, is the “Nyamira Express” twin bus smash-up in Kisii, coming even before relatives bury victims of the train and “Umoinner” matatu tragedy in Mutindwa, Nairobi.
Statistics show that driver errors account for over 70 per cent of all fatal and injury crashes.
Across our borders, for instance, data provided by Tanzanian Road Safety Committee indicates that in the first half of this year, 235 people died and 3,997 others were injured in Dar es Salaam alone. As of June, 6,085 road accidents had occurred in the city of Dar es Salaam.
According to the Global Status Report on Road Safety by World Health Organisation (WHO), India has the highest number of road accidents in the world with over 130,000 deaths annually. Similarly, here in Kenya, police records on accidents for the last three years from January to July paints a rather grim picture on how Kenyans are massacred on the roads. For the seven-month period in 2011, 2012 and 2013, a total number of 1,749, 1,719 and 1,741 people died respectively.
Pedestrians’ fatalities have remained consistently high registering 843,855 and 806 deaths respectively over the same period.
For the seven-month period running from 2011, 2012 and 2013, a total of 10,300, 8,288 and 8,005 accidents were reported.
All over the world, overloading, drunk-driving, speeding, unroadworthy vehicles and recklessness have been cited as major causes of accidents.
And, globally, more than 50 million people are seriously injured every year. On average, therefore, there are 3,500 deaths a day or 150 every hour. That is nearly three people killed on the road every minute worldwide.
According to a WHO report, about 1.24 million road traffic deaths occur annually with the proportion of pedestrians killed in relation to other road users being highest in Africa at 38 per cent.
Most road traffic injuries are predictable and preventable, what is required is the incorporation of comprehensive road safety programmes into national planning. Installation of improved technology-backed surveillance systems, improved road network and profiling of accident-prone locations with warning designs are some of the key areas largely explored worldwide to avert road crashes.
Inadequate policing on the roads, outdated technology including the absence of mobile police interceptor vehicles to nab traffic violators on major Kenyan highways are some of the serious gaps that need to be addressed urgently.
The Kenyan transport industry must also invest on civic education and capacity building on road safety. Sadly, more than one-half of all road traffic deaths globally occur among people aged 15 to 44 — their most productive years.
According to WHO survey in March 2006, road accidents were rated the leading cause of death and the tenth-leading cause of all deaths globally and now make up a surprisingly significant portion of the worldwide burden of ill-health. And if the trend continues, injuries from accidents are predicted to be the third-leading contributor to the global burden of disease and injury by 2020. It is not for lack of laws and technology. Think about that traffic camera next time you want to jump the queue.