The last few days have seen Kenyan roads registering an unacceptable number of fatalities. Relevant authorities have shared unacceptable reasons as to why road accidents are on the rise. Some actions taken to mitigate the accidents also leave a lot to be desired from a road transport safety perspective.
Where did the rain start beating us would be the befitting question to address our current challenges and provide mitigating frameworks. Let’s start by appreciating global benchmarks. First, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety – 2015; 100 countries now use a 30-day definition for their official road traffic data.
Challenging as it might be, we need to report the number of post-accident fatalities so that the magnitude of the problem is clear and not toned down. Alongside Kenya 167 countries have a lead agency that coordinates the implementation of a national road safety strategy. In Kenya, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) was created in 2012 to play this role and is fully funded by the Government. Even better, we also have a dedicated Traffic Police department.
A dedicated Traffic Police department and a fully funded Authority (NTSA) to coordinate implementation of the strategy on road transport safety form the main pre-requisites for effective work on road safety in any country. What remains for Kenya is the development of a prioritised action plan involving all stakeholders and actors with clear deliverables that will be monitored and evaluated continuously.
We are among the few countries in the world with an urban speed limit of 50 KPH that can be reduced to suit local conditions and also one of the very few with a national motorcycle helmet standard (KS 77).
NTSA has a target to reduce road accidents by 10 per cent each year.
Why then have we registered a mere just a 2.9 per cent year-on-year reduction in fatalities if the main “fundamentals” are in place? In December 2017, more lives were lost than in December 2016.
What was the magic that brought ‘sanity’ in the public transport sector leading to a near 90 per cent, if not higher, compliance with safety belts fitting and use, speed governor’s installation and ‘respect’ when “Michuki rules” were rolled out? How come the police were able to enforce “Michuki rules”? Why did we slide back having achieved what was hitherto ‘impossible’?
How did we clean Nairobi River? Why didn’t we set what we achieved as the minimum acceptable standard now that the hard work had already been done?
According to WHO, road traffic deaths and injuries in low and middle income countries (LMICs) are estimated to cause economic losses of up to 5 per cent of GDP. Road accidents also directly induce both human and socio-economic costs with both psychological and legal consequential burdens. With the Government’s plan to offer “universal health care for all’, it is imperative that we reduce the burden of injuries from road crashes. In many cases, loss of the life of a family’s breadwinner means a ‘death sentence’ for the dependants. Road safety therefore, must remain high in the Government and public agenda.
The ‘sensational’ reporting of fatal accidents by the media needs to be encouraged to continue to drive public awareness and put urgency in implementation of concrete actions to reverse the trend. Initiatives that have been started towards this course need to be fully supported by both Government and communities.
A good example is the Africa Road Safety Corridors Initiative – a partnership between the World Bank and Total oil. The initiative is a campaign aimed at increasing road safety awareness, changing behaviour and reducing fatalities along Africa’s major transit corridors and road networks.
The first corridor being targeted by the campaign is the Mombasa-Kampala Northern Corridor, which is East Africa’s deadliest corridor, in which we have recently witnessed a very high frequency of fatal road accidents.
The public outrage recently meted out on NTSA officials attending to an accident though unacceptable is for lack of a better word understandable and ways of turning the ‘public anger’ into something useful must be found. The public needs to be educated on the role every one of us can play to make a difference in road safety.
NTSA must rise to the occasion and perform its mandate and functions which are clearly stipulated by law. The agency having existed for over five years, it is time to take stock and evaluate whether the mandate has been executed effectively.
The long term vision and strategy for road safety needs to be revisited and the objectives to be attained within the strategy’s time period clearly redefined. Considerable stakeholder engagement, benchmarking globally while implementing locally (and where necessary changing to suit local conditions) will help us invest in a refined strategy based on best available advice and evidence, and cut implementation timelines by learning from those who have succeeded in reducing road crashes drastically.
I do not know if it is not clear whether NTSA has the technical capacity to execute its mandate. A peek at the Qualifications for appointment to the NTSA board surprisingly have no mention of road transport safety and mechanical engineering.
If there is a technical capacity gap at the top level, the same needs to be filled immediately so that NTSA can become effective.
For us to win this war, only an integrated approach involving all relevant sectors i.e. Transport, Infrastructure, public health, police, vehicle owners & operators, the public and non-governmental agencies will work.
- Mr Ndegwa is a Trained Engineer and Road Transport Safety (RTS) Practitioner currently serving as the Managing Director, Savannah Cement. The article was reviewed by Sanga Burua, a renown RTS Professional. [email protected]