SECTIONS
Premium

Are road accidents a case of narrow minds using wide highways?

Car wreckage, far left, mounted along Waiyaki Way, Nairobi, as a warning to motorists.  [File, Standard]

On Friday, the National Police Service released statistics of road accidents recorded between January 1 this year and Monday, September 25.

It reported that in seven days leading to September 26, 145 deaths occurred on our roads, figures that should make us sit up and listen or just slow down and live. But that will not happen. Road accidents have become part of our national identity, our culture so much so that we stopped having road safety campaigns, and even when we do, they are seen as an inconvenience.

Around three months ago, there was a great hue and cry after a passenger service vehicle was involved in an accident on the Nairobi Expressway. Kenyans went a Twitter with varied points of view, with some saying the Expressway was not well designed and others saying that PSV drivers are ever reckless and should not be allowed on the elevated toll road.

The noise led to the banning of PSVs from the highway for a short period. This move angered certain Kenyans who felt that the move smacked of classicism and elitism. Those who had been demonising the highway from the time its construction started were sad over the casualties but happy in a way, that they had been vindicated that the highway is not necessary.

But those who feel that it represents their dreams of a Nairobi without gridlocks on their way to catch flights, were angry that such a marvel of engineering would be used by every Onyango, Kamau and Mohammed. That was not the only accident to occur on the toll road, and each reported one only increased the collective anger of motorists who adore it and those who loathe it. But it did not take long before both groups stopped getting angry.

It is not that accidents were no longer happening. The dying down of anger or conversations about accidents on that highway, is typical of Kenyans when it comes to road carnage. Whenever there is an accident, Kenyans get angry at government agencies, at traffic police officers, at road engineers, at PSV drivers and even blame weather conditions.

Then the Government listens, and in a knee-jerk reaction, comes up with measures which are not well thought out, like it happened when the PSV caused an accident on the Expressway. The interventions that are prescribed are never meant to work for long. They are not long-term solutions, and it never takes long before more casualties are reported. Then the authorities prescribe more ad hoc solutions.

The statistics that the police service released on Friday prove that interventions that have been put in place over the years are not working - because they were not meant to work. During reporting period - January 1 to September 26 - Kenya lost 1,269 pedestrians, 324 drivers, 634 passengers, 941 motorcyclists, 324 pillion riders and 49 cyclists in road accidents.

Seven days leading to September 26, 145 deaths occurred on Kenyan roads. [iStockphoto]

In 2021, there were fewer fatalities - 3286 - from road accidents, according to the police, and sadly, an increase of deaths was recorded in each of those categories. That road the number of casualties is increasing can only mean that no road safety campaigns were conducted or if they were, no one cared to observe or obey the rules.

These grim statistics should make us ask ourselves the hard questions or make us be more careful. They should prod us to find out where the problem is. Is it our driving schools, is it our vehicles, the police, the roads or just our attitude towards road safety? In July, just a few days after the PSV accident on the Expressway, the Kenya Urban Roads Authority absolved the design of the roads or the road infrastructure as they call it, and said that human error, another phrase for carelessness, is responsible for 57 per cent of the road accidents.

The roads authority said their statistics show that road infrastructure and condition of the vehicles are responsible for three per cent and one per cent, respectively, of road accidents. As of June 30, statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority showed that 2,300 lives had been lost on the roads compared to 2,156 in the same period in 2021.

It is easy to dismiss road safety campaigns and tell off those who suggest that our driving schools' instructors and traffic police officers need to be more strict, but the urban roads authority says that the driving culture in Kenya should be looked into in order to reduce the number of road accidents.

Even if the design of the road is responsible for only one per cent of the accidents, it does absolve the people in charge. They are just as guilty as the careless, drunk or ill-trained motorist who does not know the rules and does not care about other road users.

That said, our roads are built by foreigners but it would be silly of us to fully blame them for the accidents, considering that we have a stinking attitude towards road safety.