In the past few days, the death toll on our roads has become alarming. Within three days, three separate accidents; one along the notorious Salgaa-Sachang'wan 14km stretch, another in Kamukuywa, Bungoma County, and the third at kwa Makaa along the Thika-Matuu Road have claimed at least 65 lives.
The Salgaa-Sachang'wan narrow winding ribbon of road meandering through forest is hardly enough for the heavy traffic it carries. Any small car driver knows it is dangerous business driving behind trailers and big lorries, for they often develop brake failures on inclines. To some extent, this explains the compelling need most drivers have to stay as far ahead any trailer as possible. And therein lies the problem.
Fatigued drivers keen on staying clear of trailers may suffer judgemental lapses and fail to anticipate oncoming traffic. That has been a major cause of accidents on the Sachang'wan- Salgaa Road. Other factors like driver apathy, inattention to road markings, missing signage, drink-driving, careless pedestrians crossing roads, encroachment on the road by traders and the worst of them all; corruption, are known to the authorities. What boggles the mind is the lethargy that assails agencies charged with road safety.
As usual, National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) officials will conjure up statistics showing road deaths have declined in the same period in comparison to last year. They will talk tough to assuage the public; sit back and wait for the next accident to help it compute figures for the next statistical update. The hope that rode on the formation of the road safety authority was a false hope.
NTSA officers are part of the problem on the roads, having been co-opted into the practice of soliciting for bribes from motorists by their partners in crime; traffic police officers.
Drivers’ complicity, and especially public service vehicle drivers in road carnage cannot be ignored. A random check inside the drivers’ licences will reveal hidden Sh50 or Sh100 notes that police officers surreptitiously pocket while pretending to take a look at the stickers on the windscreen.
This is the corruption that is occasioning too many deaths on our roads. Dispensing a Sh50 note to a policeman will not fix a faulty braking system that could result in deaths a few kilometres after a police road block. Sadly, too, our penal system is dysfunctional. The experiment with roadside courts only fuelled corruption.
If NTSA applied the same zeal it does to employing breathalysers in enforcing road safety, we would by now be recounting positive gains in saving lives.
Granted, NTSA boss Francis Meja has denied the involvement of NTSA officers in the latest Sachangwan accident, but I will have him know that chasing after errant drivers has become a favourite pass-time for his officers. Where road safety is concerned, NTSA is a bad dream.
Ridding roads of drunken drivers is NTSA’s revolutionary idea for safety. No doubt, drunk drivers are a danger, but random sampling will show that ninety percent of road accidents are caused by very sober drivers.
There is a menace that NTSA has completely failed to address itself to; motorcycle boda boda riders. They ride on pavements, wrong lanes and on the wrong side of the road, as long as there is an opening.
These riders carry more passengers than the law permits. At times, they carry live animals on the pillions. They take on wide loads that restrict their rear view and more often than not, wear no helmets. Some of them provide getaway means for criminals while in some cases, the riders are the criminals themselves.
Boda boda riders have become a law unto themselves. They have developed their own set of rules. In accidents involving a motorcyclist, the other party is wrong. They gang up to terrorise motorists.
Recently in Homa Bay, they had the temerity to burn a bus that their colleague had hit from behind. Traffic police and NTSA officers are aware of this, yet act as though nothing is wrong.
Solutions to these accidents must be found. As a temporal measure, speed bumps should be erected on the Salgaa-Sachang'wan Road. The inconvenience of road bumps is preferable to the deaths that occur every other day as a consequence of human error. Bumps can achieve what NTSA will not attain in years of trying; enforcing caution.
The construction of a dual carriageway is imperative. Cost cannot be a factor for a government that looks the other way while a handful of individuals steal billions of shillings from public coffers. Surely, the Government can build a 14km stretch of road for public good without breaking a sweat. Trailers and lorries should not move past 1800hrs, but safe parking bays need to be provided.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]