As we usher in New Year, let us say no to road accidents

The wreckage of the Nairobi bus and a truck that collided head on at Migaa area near Salgaa along the Nakuru- Eldoret Highway on December 31, 2017. [Photo: Kipsang Joseph/Standard]
After the upheavals that characterised 2017, Kenyans looked forward to closing the year and crossing over to 2018 in an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. Sadly, they woke up on Sunday to yet another report of an accident at Migaa, along the Salgaa–Sachangwan stretch.

By end of the day yesterday, 38 people had been reported dead in an accident that involved a passenger bus travelling from Busia to Nairobi and a trailer travelling to Eldoret.

Along the Salgaa-Sachangwan stretch of road, more than 100 people lost their lives in December 2017 alone. By any standards, this is overwhelming and calls for drastic action beyond the usual recriminations that, rather than endeavour to solve the problem, end up apportioning blame.

Public trust in the ability of law enforcers to make our roads safe is eroded. Indeed, it is so bad that National Transport and Safety Authority officials had to flee from an accident scene at Chaka Market along the Nyeri-Nanyuki Road last week after an angry crowd charged at them.

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In order to effectively deal with the growing menace of accidents across the country, it is an opportune time for the Government to declare rampant accidents a national emergency and thereafter, exert itself to finding a permanent solution.

While a country like Estonia recently sent Christmas cards to its worst drivers, hoping that pictures of car crashes and road accidents would help them change their ways after 40 road deaths were reported in the year, it is horrifying that Kenya should boast of a reduction in road accidents in annual statistical comparisons while the body count is in excess of 2,000 each year.

As this newspaper has noted before, most accidents happen at night and more often than not, involve a trailer.

This demonstrates laxity on the part of the police and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) particularly because, while Daniel Arap Moi was president of Kenya, he banned heavy trucks from being on the road between 6pm and 6am. That order is still in force, but somehow was ignored. It needs to be reinforced. Night travel ban on public service vehicles, imposed in December 2013 was able, in a very short period of time, to reduce road accidents by at least 25 per cent. Somehow, the authorities sat back contented and public service vehicle operators took advantage of the lethargy to continue with night travel.

Time without number the public has called on the Government to act with speed to stem accidents on the Salgaa-Sachangwan road- and many other crash-prone spots across the country-but the standard response has been promises, mostly unfulfilled.

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It took the deaths of 17 people at Sachangwan on December 12, 2017 for the Government to allocate Sh500 million for the construction of bumps and a dual carriageway as a measure of minimising accidents on this road. It was too little too late as is the action by NTSA to enforce the night travel ban on PSVs, effective December 31, 2017.

Nevertheless, the fact that something positive is being done is reassuring. We cannot continue losing lives in road accidents that can be avoided. Kenya’s economy is said to lose 5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to accidents, a trend that must be reversed.

But as we blame the Government and road safety authorities, notably the police and NTSA for laxity and corruption that leads to road accidents and deaths, we need not lose sight of the fact that drivers contribute in large measure to the accidents, and this arises from their attitude while behind the steering wheel.

Road markings and signs are not decorations, they make the difference between life and death, yet drivers behave as though the signage does not exist. An attitudinal change is an imperative.

Other contributory factors to accidents as we all know include poor vehicle maintenance, pedestrians crossing roads at non-designated places, speeding and over loading.

Of course, the worst of them all is corruption that traffic police and NTSA engage in while taking bribes to let through defective vehicles that should otherwise not be on the roads, or those flouting traffic rules. As we say ‘Happy new year’, let us also say ‘no’ to road accidents.

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