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Behavioural change only way to halt road carnage

By Editorial | October 3rd 2014

Separately in Nyeri and Vihiga counties this week, traffic policemen had to literally flee from angry locals who accused the officers of soliciting for bribes from motorists and consequently paralysing business at centres close to where they set up mobile traffic courts.

There has been an outcry against these courts from both the motorists and wananchi.

Mobile courts were launched last year to make the roads safer and friendlier by reducing accidents and nabbing speeding motorists, to restore sanity on Kenyan roads. This was a noble idea. But some of the drivers flagged down during crackdowns and found guilty of one infraction or another have escaped punishment by bribing the police officers, making a complete mockery of the exercise that was meant to rid the road of rogue drivers.

Mobile courts, rather than offer convenience, have turned out to be an inconvenience to road users. Travellers found in vehicles without seat belts or where such belts are provided, but fail to work, end up paying fines.

One wonders; is it the police’s or the public’s duty to enforce compliance to traffic rules?

Many a time, passengers discover faults once they have boarded the vehicles. In the cases where fines are imposed, they are prohibitively high; an indication the Government will pull no stops to punish wrongdoers either passive or active.

Meanwhile, accidents continue to occur, which in many cases are attributed to human error. Places like the Salgaa stretch on the Nakuru -Eldoret highway, the Nakuru-Nairobi highway and Mombasa Road have become deathbeds. With at least 3,000 killed on the road and thousands others maimed, Kenya is not worse off. Consider the Dominican Republic with the world’s most dangerous roads where 40 out of every 100,000 die.

No doubt, a fastened seat belt saves life. A forgotten driving licence or carrying an expired driving licence, while illegal, is never really the cause for the wanton road carnage. Over-loading and speeding is, especially in an unroadworthy vehicle.

Consider the paradox: public service vehicles and trucks cause the most accidents yet they have speed governors and carry the prescribed capacity of passengers and load.

But because of the reactionary conduct of the police, lives continue getting lost.

A vehicle’s poor condition should be cause for worry. Poor wheel alignment, bald tyres, defective steering, rickety suspensions, broken springs, poor braking systems and driver fatigue are the major causes of accidents.

Whereas these cause accidents, they cannot be established at a roadside tent, several miles from the starting point of a journey.

Small acts, but significant in increasing road safety, should be adopted. Bushes on the roadside, for example, need to be cleared to increase visibility, missing road signs need to be replaced, markings made clear, repairs done and lighting fixed.

Poor road design should be corrected to ensure narrow sections are expanded to accommodate the ever-increasing number of vehicles. As a start, the police should focus on changing behaviour of the drivers and laws passed to curb road carnage enforced.

Sweden has done this with great success. In 1987, the Swedish Parliament wrote into law a “Vision Zero” plan promising to eliminate loss of life and limb on their roads.

In Sweden, the roads are built with safety in mind. Speed and convenience are not prioritised. As a result, three Swedes out of every 100,000 perish, making its roads the safest in the world.

In “Vision Zero”, the aim is to minimise human error as much as possible. Some cars will have in-built breathalysers and warning alerts for speeding or unfastened seatbelts.

Yet, there are also plans to do away with drivers altogether.

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