Let's use science to curb road carnage

The scene of a tragic accident involving three vehicles in Nyanja area along the Nakuru-Eldoret Highway on October 7, 2023. [File, Standard]

Rarely are suicide notes found on drivers who die or survive road accidents.

The same applies to pedestrians knocked to death by vehicles. Why are we so quick to blame drivers in case of accidents? We arrest and charge them, yet the trauma of an accident, more so when someone dies is enough punishment.  

It’s probably assumed that the driver is in control of the car and takes responsibility for any accident. While there are careless drivers, thrilled by speed or immaturity, most drivers are good people eager to reach their destination and live a long life. 

We should be quick to arrest car manufacturers, road designers and repairers in case of an accident, they too could be liable. Why so much focus on drivers? We even want to monitor them with speed cameras. They are easy targets.

They are there! It’s no wonder we have not reduced the number of accidents despite stringent rules. Accidents go beyond the drivers; they have a supply chain. Ever wondered why the death penalty has never ended crime?   Who else matters in accidents? Start with manufacturers. Have you ever wondered why there are no car recalls in Kenya? Or is it that they are never publicised? 

Remember the 2015 recall over faulty airbags that involved 22 million cars and models such as Nissan, Subaru, Ford, and BMW? 

For most of us, what happens in the bonnet of a car is a mystery. What if we are sold defective cars? Someone could argue there is a pre-shipping inspection. What after that? 

If you look at your car’s manual, it clearly states the mileage to replace belts, gearbox oil, and other parts.

How many follow that manual? Many argue that if it’s not broken, why fix it? Transfer that thinking to matatus and buses. Lack of money or poverty is a factor in accidents. Who can dispute that new cars are likely to be safer?  

Poverty has another unintended consequence, we learn how to drive late in life. The car never becomes part of us like phones for digital natives. We are thrilled by the car, seen as a status symbol or toy, not a tool.  

Poverty leads us to cheap and often fake spare parts. The front brake pads for a Toyota Vitz cost about Sh12,000. You can get that on the streets for half the price. With fake spare parts, it’s not hard to explain the cause of accidents.  

After an accident, the car should be analysed by an automotive engineer to check for such parts and get the root cause of the accident. When a vehicle goes for inspection, what is checked? Does anyone use an X-ray machine to check for metal fatigue?  Have many matatu bodies been tested for robustness in case of a crash?  

We forget that until recently, most of our roads were designed for cars, not human beings. We now have pedestrian walkways.

We forget a simple fact, more than 95 per cent of Kenyans do not drive. They walk and often on the roads. Have you seen the sea of people walking along the road from Kangemi in the morning?  

Our roads must take care of pedestrians before cars and their drivers. If you take the Outer Ring Road from the Thika Superhighway towards the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), you will see how accidents are “created.” There are no overpasses or bus stations.  

Accidents would be fewer if we appreciated science more. Remember the high school topic on momentum, force, and acceleration? Why do touts “chase” the bus after alighting while it’s in motion?  

High speed means in case of an accident, that force must be dispersed. Remember, force is mass multiplied by acceleration. In case of an accident, it’s deceleration.

More poignant is that the higher the speed, after a certain point, the more fuel you consume. You have to overcome air resistance. One more on science, have you noted how lighting is bad at twilight with natural light and headlights interfering with each other and how it’s hard to judge the distance of an incoming car at night? Light travels at 300,000km per second!  By the way, why does the car “over accelerate” on a hill from Kimanga to Flyover as you come from Naivasha?  

And how was 80kph arrived at as the speed limit on single-carriageway highways in Kenya? Do any scientists have evidence it’s the safest speed?  

The last time I visited a developed country, I noted cars had snow tyres. Are tyres and other car parts designed for our rough roads? I don’t recall ever changing the shock absorbers or struts of my car back in America.  

Do we mark our roads? That can make a big difference at night or for drivers not familiar with a particular road.

Even simple things like reminding us how far to our destination can make a big difference.