Threats from authorities and steep fines will never end road accidents

The wreckage of Kapsabet Boys High School bus involved in an accident at Patkawanin along Marigat-Kabarnet road, in Baringo county on March 16,2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The number of deaths arising from road accidents in Kenya poses a huge crisis. Data from the 2023 economic survey shows that 4,690 deaths were reported on Kenyan roads in 2022. This number is likely to be surpassed this year going by statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority which has recorded 649 road deaths in the first two months of 2024.

A lot has been said about the causes of accidents. Drivers have been blamed for speeding beyond the prescribed limit. Pedestrians too have not escaped censure for crossing busy roads carelessly.

No doubt, a good number of accidents have resulted from defective vehicles. Experts have proposed a raft of solutions to stop motoring in Kenya from being an extreme sport. But as remedial measures are contemplated, here are some points to ponder.

First, threats and bluster from authorities do not prevent road accidents. Nor are steep fines and jail terms an effective deterrent. If anything, they up the ante in the collusion between traffic offenders and venal law enforcement officers. Higher bribes become the order of the day as fatalities continue unabated.

Second, rules and regulations in Kenya appear more designed to nab offenders than to deter unwanted behaviour. Law enforcement officers on the roads, more often than not, look for offences instead of aiding the smooth flow of traffic. Speed guns on highways are in hidden locations with policemen springing up on motorists to accuse them of driving over the prescribed speed limit.

In other jurisdictions where road accidents are kept to a minimum, there is an abundance of signage instructing motorists on prescribed speed limits. There are even signs to notify one of speed enforcement by camera so that offenders are without excuse when they break the law. 

Related to this is the fact that Kenya has retrogressed from the days of signage that warned of everything; from cattle and railway crossing to cross-winds and road surfaces that were slippery when wet. Intersections on highways were always clearly marked as were built-up areas with speed restrictions of 50km/h. These days, determination of road conditions and restrictions is left to one’s devices.

Third, many Kenyan roads do not lend themselves to contemporary driving by their nature and design. Take for instance the Mombasa-Malaba highway. For decades now, it has remained relatively unchanged save for the addition of a few climbing lanes. Yet year after year traffic increases exponentially on this important trunk road that connects the landlocked East and Central African countries to the port city of Mombasa. At the best of times, movement between cities is an hours-long affair. At worst, it takes days with gridlocks resulting from minor fender benders.

Contrary to what Kenyan officials say, it is not speed that kills. Rather, it is the poor design of roads that is responsible for fatalities in the country. Accidents have been caused by bumps erected on trunk roads, the ubiquitous vendors thronging roadsides to sell their wares and the delays in rerouting trunk roads away from busy shopping centres.

Germany has the autobahn where one can drive without speed restrictions yet it is considered a safer road than other highways around the world. Perhaps we should borrow a leaf.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst