Last week, President Kenyatta ordered National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) off the roads to leave the police with the enforcement of traffic rules. The order follows increased attention to road safety after a series of fatal accidents last month that claimed hundreds of lives. While this directive makes sense, it is far from what we require to fully address road carnage in Kenya.
When it was set-up in 2012, the NTSA was a policy intervention to improve coordination in the regulation of road transport and reduce fatalities. The authority has a broad mandate regarding road transport. However, it had become infamous for extortion of motorists at roadblocks for drink-driving and speeding offences. Images of NTSA drivers disobeying traffic rules, including some in which they put themselves and other road users at risk, have been shared widely on social media. Then came the bizarre case in which NTSA officers were accused of causing an accident in Sachang’wan that claimed 32 lives.
Statistics indicate that an average 3,000 people die in road accidents in Kenya annually. While the number of fatalities in 2017 have not yet been released, it is likely that it will be higher than in 2016, if the deaths in December are anything to go by. Far too many lives have been lost on our roads unnecessarily. While the regulator has designed and implemented policies, NTSA has evidently been unable to improve road safety in the 5 years of its existence. It is important for us to consider the reasons for this. But just like having NTSA on the roads was not the answer, neither will their absence. In any case, this only takes us back to the pre-NTSA days when traffic police were fully responsible for road safety. Lest we forget, road accidents were still an issue then. We have gone around the mountain, we should do better than go around it another time.
My argument here is that dealing with road accidents will require much broader interventions because deaths on the roads are caused by a multiplicity of factors. To be fair to NTSA, their focus on behavioural factors has been driven by several factors including limited resources and the limits of the mandate. NTSA reports on their interventions betrays a sense of frustration in getting support from other government agencies. They often lament poor funding, poor road design and lack of support from county governments. Matters to do with flaws in road design and response to accidents are beyond their control. For instance, it is widely known that less than 10 per cent of accident victims in Africa arrive at hospital in an ambulance. As such, the Ministry of Health and County Governments also have a role in helping tackle this issue. All the stakeholders need to be fully engaged if we are genuinely committed to reducing fatalities.
However, this calls for thorough research and sophisticated analysis of the available data on road accidents so that there is a better and fine-grained view of the causes of accidents. For instance, confidence in the proportion of road accidents caused by drunk driving would help to determine whether the investments that NTSA makes to curb drunk driving are justified. However, this would not be enough, in and of itself; the demographics profiles of the drunk drivers and geographical locations where accidents occur would be helpful in designing interventions. Similarly, such a thorough understanding would similarly help to design interventions for speeding. If there is one thing we know, it is that roadblocks are not an effective intervention in this regard.
Achieving such an agenda requires the commitment of the top political leadership because only they can convene the multiple agencies and county governments. A good starting point might be a commitment to ensure that no more lives will be lost at the deadly Sachang’wan blackspot. If this were to be a key target for all the stakeholders, with clear accountability for each, we might be able to solve this problem. Furthermore, it would give us important insights that could be applied to broader nation-wide interventions.
The writer is a PhD Candidate in African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. [email protected]