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Why we are failing at taming accidents on our roads

By Ronald Ndegwa | Published Sat, January 20th 2018 at 00:00, Updated January 19th 2018 at 20:48 GMT +3
Focus must change to highest exposure areas where lives are being lost repeatedly [Harry| Standard]

The work of our law enforcement officers is no doubt challenging and we will never have enough officers to police every driver, passenger or pedestrian. As such we need to change our attitude to road safety and obey traffic rules even when traffic police officers are not on the roads.

The traffic police also need to change. It is not inconceivable to have polite, friendly and uncompromising officers on our roads. A traffic offence should not be treated like a criminal offence (unless of course it leads to a serious accident).

We have witnessed the panic exhibited by motorists at times in-front of their children when flagged down to stop by a traffic policeman. Why do we give thumbs up to KDF on the roads and dread traffic policemen even when we have breached no rule?

Enforcement needs to target highest contributors to major accidents that lead to fatalities and serious injuries. It’s no use for a traffic officer to skim through a traffic jam to catch those using mobile phones (as much as this must be punished) if in the same area there are overloaded public service vehicles breaking the highway code with abandon.

Speed checks will play a more effective preventive role by catching those who fly on the highways and not those driving at 55 KPH in a 50 KPH section of the highway where not even a warning sign exists. Enforcement needs to be applied uniformly and across the board be it a Government or parastatal vehicle, matatu, private SUV or the ubiquitous Probox, miraa pickup or school bus. Enforcement needs to be more strategic and not for ‘fault finding’ (minor offences) with obvious end result being an avenue for bribery.

Those who allow overloaded vehicles to go through roadblocks or license un-roadworthy vehicles should be held to account. It’s sad we ended the year with several lives lost at Migaa in Nakuru County. The bus was said to have had worn out tyres, was speeding and out of its lane. When did it last undergo inspection and what were the results?

How come it made it through road blocks and the worn out tyres were not spotted? Do the police have a traceable checklist once they flag down a car? How come no one has been held to account for obvious negligence?

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It is a common sight these days to see boda bodas (motorbikes) cutting in-front of motorists crossing highways, driving in the wrong direction on dual carriageways and at roundabouts, overtaking from any direction, carrying a number of passengers with no helmets or wearing helmets that aren’t fastened with a chin-strap in the full glare of traffic officers. Sadly, we have accepted boda bodas and matatus don’t have to follow rules.

Worse still, a motorist involved in an accident with a boda boda faces great risk of ‘instant justice’ even when the boda boda is in the wrong. In Rwanda, boda bodas obey all traffic rules including lane discipline and respecting traffic lights. They strictly carry one passenger and both driver and passenger wear helmets.

Why can’t we enforce the law? Motorcycle accidents are leading to an increase in head injuries. Head injuries attract much higher medical costs than any other injuries. Some hospitals now have “boda boda wings/wards.” If the number of boda bodas in any city or town was to be doubled, how will we cope with the chaos that will unfold if we are entrenching a culture of impunity?

As a major step towards eliminating corruption on our roads, minor traffic offences need to have a set fine that is only payable through a pay-bill number within 48 hours. Those who dispute should also pay cash bail the same way. Repeat offenders should pay increasingly more and beyond a certain set limit lose their driving licence or be suspended from driving for some time.

National Transport and Safety Authority should champion drafting of any changes in traffic laws that will be necessary to effect the changes. Given the concerns in Government about our road safety track record, I have no doubt Parliament will be more than willing to amend or introduce any legislation that will help save lives on our roads or drive the desired transformation. Again we don’t have to reinvent the wheel – other countries have done it and registered remarkable success. Overall, focus must change to highest exposure areas where lives are being lost repeatedly.

Mr Ndegwa is a Trained Engineer and Road Transport Safety (RTS) Practitioner and Managing Director, Savannah Cement. The article was reviewed by Sanga Burua, a RTS Professional. [email protected]

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