SPECIAL REPORT: Substandard helmets and failure to wear them among leading causes of motorcycle related deaths, says new report

A boda boda rider carries a passenger without a helmet Daraja Mbili-Migori Highway. Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 per cent in the event of an accident. [Sammy Omingo ,Standard]

Substandard helmets in the country are among the leading causes of motorcycle-related deaths, it has emerged.

Also, failure to wear them has been blamed for rising deaths. This is according to report by the Kenyan National Helmet Wearing Coalition.

The report released Monday is titled 'A Fare Price: An Investigation into the Health Costs of Motorcycle Taxi Crashes in Kenya.’

It studied boda boda helmet usage through hospital data, observational studies, in-depth interviews and national data analysis.

The report found that there is need for a helmet testing facility to strengthen enforcement.

“Just 15 percent of pillion passengers and 63 percent of riders in Nairobi wear helmets," report says.

It further says that head injuries make up over a third of treated motorcycle injuries with the mean hospital stay for a motorcycle crash victim at 18 days.

"...and 28 percent spend more than three weeks in hospital and finally hospital costs for motorcycle crashes can be up to 4.5 times the annual salary of boda boda riders,” report says.

In Kenya, registered motorcycles have risen to 2.2 million.

 Samuel Musumba, program director at National Transport and Safety Authority(NTSA) said last month that they will soon launch of a laboratory to test the standards of helmets in the country.

This he said, will standardise helmets used across the country.

A lady is carried on a motorbike along Thika road without putting on a helmet which is a requirement by of the Traffic Act. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

George Njao, Director General NTSA, said that in Kenya trauma and head injuries are most common because of motorcycle-related crashes.

"Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable because they have limited protective equipment that could prevent major traumas in the event of a crash. Despite the burden of the problem, the vice has not received adequate attention due to unavailability of local reliable data," he said.

He added: "We require helmets that meet international standards and we will work together with all relevant stakeholders to ensure the safety of our motorcyclists.”

Aggie Krasnolucka, Programmes Director of the FIA Foundation, said building safer journeys starts with understanding the importance of high-quality helmets.

“It is clear from report that Kenya needs better data and awareness of helmet wearing, and most importantly means to testify their quality. The FIA Foundation is pleased to support the Kenyan National Helmet Coalition that aims to achieve just that,” said Ms Krasnolucka.

Director of Global Injury at The George Institute and a Senior Research Fellow at Imperial College London, Margie Peden, urged the private sector to offer free helmets for riders and passengers.

“The private sector should offer free helmets with every motorcycle – why should the onus only be on the user? Seat belts come with a vehicle – you don’t have to pay more for them, so why don’t helmets come with motorcycles?” she said.

Dr Gladys Nyachieo, report principle investigator, said medical costs from motorcycle crash injuries have adverse effects on the lives of those affected and the community at large.

"There is a need for more enforcement of existing legislation and helmet standards for safety for pillion and operators. Let all stakeholders commit to creating safer roads and safer helmets for all users.  This report is clear on the suffering and disruptions that occur due to effects of motorcycle crashes,” she said.

Research has shown that a motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of death by 42 per cent and the risk of head injury by 69 per cent in a crash (UNECE, 2016).

Rwanda has reduced deaths related to boda bodas through ensuring that everyone on the two-wheeler must have a helmet that matches the reflectors.

“Head injuries are the leading cause of hospital admission and make up more than one-third of all injuries (35 percent), according to the analysis of hospital records from two hospitals in Nairobi," said the report.

It finds that almost 1,000 individuals were treated for motorcycle crash injuries in just 18-months.

Most victims are aged below 35, with boda boda drivers frequently injured than pillion passengers.

Also, report says six per cent of patients died during treatment. However, roadside deaths are not recorded by hospitals, and data is limited.

The report also revealed that five roads including Thika Super Highway, Mombasa Road, Kangundo, Outer Ring and Jogoo roads are Kenya’s most dangerous roads for motorcyclists and their passengers.

The five roads, it emerged, collectively accounted for 9,996 accidents involving boda bodas and their passengers between May 2022 and October last year.

A total of 2, 384 boda boda riders and their passengers lost their lives while another 5,581 suffered serious injuries.

Report says that another 2,031 escaped with minor injuries.

While there is no data specific to motorcycle crashes, the burden of overall road traffic injuries to the Kenyan economy collectively, is approximately US$6.5 billion.

“Further, the most expensive forms of treatment, relate to head and limb injury types, which are the most common among motorcycle users.

Personal testimonies revealed boda boda drivers with healthcare costs equal to up to 4.5 years of salary, with many drivers unable to return to work for more than one year after a crash,” said the report.

Most boda boda drivers interviewed reported wearing helmets but had a mixed understanding of helmet safety and the role of helmet standards.

“Only 14 percent of drivers were confident that they were wearing quality helmets. Compliance was mainly focused on enforcement rather than personal safety,” report said.

"Helmet use also depends on localities. In urban areas like Nairobi there is a 50-60 percent use but in the rural areas usage is about 20 percent. Helmet use also depends on the distance covered. Most riders do not use helmets when driving for short distances," said the report.

It further says that most of the pillion passengers do not use helmets, arguing that they are dirty.

"Many of the ladies do not wear helmets due to the health reasons and also they say riders do not offer any helmets. Some said it will "spoil their hair". Most of the riders have only one helmet on their motorbikes," said the report.

The report identifies a lack of public awareness around helmet safety and standards and leads to a series of recommendations, among them, strengthening data collection.

Another one is greater awareness on helmet safety and more financial and political investment towards prioritizing helmet compliance

Report also urges need to establish a helmet testing laboratory, the first in East Africa, to address substandard helmets, which fail to protect drivers from serious injury.