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What is needed to make Kenya's roads safe

ALEXANDER CHAGEMA
By Alexander Chagema | July 21st 2016

On July 16, 2016, at least 21 Kenyans lost their lives in grisly road accidents. Sadly, they are just a statistic.

And statistics being the science of learning from data, statisticians appear to do very little to put this into practice. Logically, once data is collected, the next step should be to analyse it, consequent upon which necessary action should be initiated.

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) regularly provides statistical data on the number of accidents and fatalities on our roads. The figures paint a grim picture, besides being an indictment on the overall discipline of the Kenyan driver, whether in the public service sector or as private motorists.

While the gory details keep us apprised of the situation, NTSA has done little to translate the data into safety. The death toll keeps rising and despite evidence that many of the reported accidents occur at specific places like, say, Salgaa in Nakuru Country, NTSA’s reaction follows a template; declare the vehicle concerned did not have a valid licence then proceed to suspend the licence. That is the scope of the strategists at NTSA, yet we look to them for safety.

By failing to enforce laws that they come up with regularly, NTSA, by its lethargy, is complicit in the many accidents that occur. The statistics they give show a number of accidents not only occur at night, they invariably involve trailers, lorries and buses. Two things come to light.

Towards the end of his rule, retired President Daniel Arap Moi banned heavy trucks from moving between 6pm and 6am. If I haven’t missed much, that presidential edict is still operative.

Night travel ban for PSVs beyond 9pm, save for special cases, is still in force. How then do NTSA and the traffic department explain the night accidents involving non-eligible vehicles without putting their necks on the chopping board?

According to opinion pollsters, the Jubilee government’s popularity rides on infrastructure development, but the mere fact of putting up infrastructure is not enough. Safety measures must be an integral part.

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Road construction calls for a rethink. Many roads are narrow, not taking into account the exponential growth in vehicular traffic. Statistics indicate a greater percentage of accidents are head –on-collisions.

There is no better argument than this for building dual carriageways, especially at known black-spot areas, to minimise these incidents.

While dual carriageways do not necessarily stop accidents, often, the frequency is spaced out and in any case, fewer deaths have been reported. Road signs are another problem, yet not necessarily a mark of government’s failing.

Poverty has led residents in some areas to view road signage as a source of scrap metal, pulling them down almost as soon as they are erected.

This calls for both parties; the government, citizens and stakeholders to exercise individual responsibility in ensuring road signage is not destroyed.

Signage could save lives by warning motorists of impending dangers; loose chippings, construction work, changes in the roads and approaches to bridges and market centres.

Road markings, road-shoulders and edges clear of obstructive bushes are an imperative. With a bigger percentage of the culprits being Trucks, buses and Lorries, they should not be allowed to move beyond 6 pm to free roads of the giant sluggish vehicles when visibility is impaired.

Many accidents involving heavy vehicles are believed to a result of human error, mostly caused by fatigue. Speed governors, despite isolated cases of tampering with them, have reduced road accidents significantly.

More effort must be put into ensuring the requirement to fit PSVs with reliable gadgets is not circumvented. The temptation to mimic rally drivers is greatly hampered by speed governors which also dissuade the reckless from overtaking on inclines and blind spots.

A regular traveller cannot miss the fact that traffic policemen have their priorities wrong. The scrutiny of drivers licences in which bribe money is concealed, insurance stickers, capacity and tonnage, though necessary, should not be prioritised over the mechanical state of vehicles.

I am of the conviction that a mobile mechanical unit to make random checks on vehicle braking systems, steering columns, tie-rod ends and ball joints will get death traps off the roads. The inconveniences would be minor in comparison to the benefits.

Driver fatigue can be gauged against mandatory work-tickets that would show how long a PSV or heavy truck driver has been behind the steering wheel. Some drivers have complained of being forced to work long hours, thus leading to fatigue-induced errors.

A sense of patriotism and regard for the sanctity of life must be instilled in the traffic department and NTSA whose officials are increasingly acting alike; taking inducements to look the other way. Officers found to have abdicated their duties in favour of ‘kitu kidogo’ must be pilloried.

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