The Nakuru-Eldoret highway has been called “the highway to hell” due to the number of lives it has claimed

A wreckage of a trailer involved in another accident that left three dead, recently. [[PHOTOS: KIPSANG JOSEPH / STANDARD]

By Steve Mkawale

Nakuru, Kenya: It is only 11km long, but the steep-stretch between Salgaa and Kibunja on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway has been referred to as “the highway to hell” because of the number of lives it has claimed.

Between March last year and now, 31 tragic accidents have been recorded on the section of the road, leaving 71 people dead and another 29 with life-threatening injuries.

According to police statistics released by the Rift Valley Traffic Enforcement Officer Mary Omari, the number of deaths on the stretch is almost half the total lives lost in accidents recorded in the region in the same duration.

The report indicates that the region recorded 193 accidents involving 496 victims, out of which 145 died.

At least 226 victims sustained serious injuries while 125 suffered minor ones.

 According to the Traffic Department, accidents along the 11km stretch have one thing in common; they all involve trailers or trucks ferrying goods within East Africa.

“Truck drivers using the highway are to blame for most of the accidents along this notorious stretch,” said Traffic Commandant Samuel Kimaru, who toured the black spot last on Tuesday, days after an accident claimed 13 lives, including nine family members. The region has 12 black spots listed by the police.

Most accidents occur when truck drivers descend the steep-stretch. They are said to disengage the gears (‘freewheeling’) to save on fuel but in most cases end up losing control of the vehicles.

Speeding motorists

“Fuel siphoning is another cause of accidents in Salgaa. We discovered that by driving without engaging the gear when descending the steep-stretch, the drivers save about five litres of fuel, which they later siphon and sell,” said Salgaa Traffic Base Commander Alex Mumo.

Mr Mumo and his team cannot enforce the law prohibiting siphoning of fuel from trailers since this is the prerogative of Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Energy Regulatory Authority (ERC).

“We have tried to stop fuel siphoning in Salgaa, but there is nothing we can do without the help of KRA, ERC and the enforcement arm of the County Government of Nakuru,” said the Officer Commanding Rongai Police Division Joseph Mwamburi.

Speeding motorists have also been blamed for the high number of accidents on the road.

During a recent traffic police crackdown on speeding motorists 26 vehicles were netted and drivers charged on the spot.

When the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and the Traffic Department toured the notorious stretch recently, they directed that the Traffic Department at Salgaa be issued with a speed gun.

During the fact-finding mission, NTSA chairman Lee Kinyanjui said the speed gun would help arrest those violating traffic rules and curb road carnage.

The team directed the local traffic police to revoke driving licences of motorists found speeding. “These are some of the measures we have introduced to curb accidents along the road. The county government and other departments will deal with fuel siphoning,” said Kinyanjui.

Abandoning stalled trailers on the highway for hours after they break down was also cited as another cause of accidents.

“The stalled trucks will be towed after one hour of breakdown to avoid accidents. This will be done by police at the expense of the owners,” said Mr Kinyanjui.

The former Roads assistant minister warned that failure to place traffic warning signs and reflectors after an accident or breakdown shall attract a penalty. “We have witnessed situations where the truck drivers refuse to place warning triangles on the road. This is a traffic offence and police should be firm when enforcing it,” he said.

No road sign

During the tour it was discovered that all road signs erected on the highway six months ago had been vandalised. It was evident that throughout the stretch characterised by sharp bends, steep hills and at least one bridge, there was no road sign to inform motorists on what to expect.

Locals have vandalised the road signs and sold them to scrap metal dealers.

The NTSA has instructed the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) to erect the road signs using material that will not attract vandals. “We will come up with materials that are suitable for road signs and which cannot attract attention from the vandals,” said Kinyanjui.

The design of the highway that was constructed with funds from the African Development Group is also suspected to be contributing to road carnage.

The NTSA chairman said engineers from the KeNHA were investigating whether the design of the road had anything to do with the accidents.

“If we find that the design has contributed to accidents then we will re-work it,” said Kinyanjui, adding that engineers had started a study on the design.

He said the government was also considering construction of alternative roads for heavy and long distance trucks.

“We have assessed the diversions that were being used during the construction of the road to see whether we can divert the heavy trucks on those roads,” he said.

The Traffic Department had proposed that the heavy vehicles be diverted to Molo-Njoro road or Eldama Ravine route from Eldoret.

But NTSA declined the proposal on grounds that the roads were narrow and unsuitable for heavy trucks.

Accidents on the 11km Salgaa stretch have one thing in common; they involve trailers that ram saloon vehicles or collide head-on with public service vehicles.

And as authorities ponder on how best to tame the rate of fatalities on this stretch, many Kenyans will continue asking when the ghost of death will be banished here.