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Why many buses have turned mobile coffins

The wreckage of the Nairobi bus and a truck that collided head on at Migaa area near Salgaa along the Nakuru- Eldoret Highway on December 31, 2017. Over 30 people died on the spot and scores injured. [Photo: Kipsang Joseph/standard]

Thousands of deaths from crashes could be avoided if buses were built to withstand impact.

Fabricators have been indicted for doing shoddy work and using inferior quality materials, thus producing vehicles that crumble on impact.

The result is horrific scenes like the one witnessed on New Year’s Eve when a bus crash killed 38 people.

The bus was ripped apart, its roof torn apart like a paper box.

In several road accidents that were less severe, the body parts of the ill-fated buses simply crumbled, aggravating the passengers’ injuries.

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Keen observers have identified a number of local fabricators said to have assembled buses that have recorded the worst fatality rates.

It has now emerged that the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA), which has been in the spotlight for the soaring fatalities on roads, has also been complacent in enforcing local bus assembling standards.

Officials at the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) told The Standard that buses built to the required standards can withstand rolling and head-on collisions with minimum damage.

Use of inferior materials and poor workmanship that ignores the requisite spacing of frames that should support the bus’s body have been cited as a major reason for minimal survivals in crashes.

“I am certain that the buses are not built to the required standards, otherwise they would not just collapse on impact,” said an official of Kebs who requested not to be named to avert conflict with other government agencies.

Among the specifications issued by the standards agency is what materials should be used to assemble different parts of a bus to enhance safety, including the type of seat belts to be installed.

Although Kebs gives specifications on how buses and other public service vehicles should be built, it is the role of the transport safety authority to ensure compliance.

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Lack of enforcement

All indications point to lack of enforcement, at least going by the plans by NTSA to start monitoring the work of fabricators in assembling buses.

NTSA Director General Francis Meja told a parliamentary committee that investigations on the wreckage of vehicles involved in road crashes had established structural faults.

“The crash investigations reports reveal a correlation between the high number of fatalities and non-conformity to the recommended standards,” Mr Meja said.

He added that all passenger vehicles on Kenyan roads fell short of body construction standards, as the effective specifications were introduced in May last year.

“Within seven years, we propose that no licences be issued to vehicles in PSV business that do not meet the new standards,” Mr Meja said.

Motor vehicle dealers such as Isuzu, locally sold by US’s General Motors, only sell the basic structure of vehicle, which includes the mechanical parts and the chassis.

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Kenya Vehicle Manufacturers and Labh Singh Harnam Singh (LSHS) are among the established fabricators who assemble vehicle bodies.

This highly liberalised segment has, however, been infiltrated by dozens of smaller startups, which include neighbourhood garages.

Meja’s admission about non-compliance came weeks after the December 31 horrific accident in Migaa on the deadly Sachang’wan stretch in Nakuru – which sparked fury and debate among Kenyans on whether there were any safety standards in the building of buses.

Anjeyo Ananda expressed concerns about the quality of workmanship in bus body construction, basing his fears on visits he had made to various fabricators.

Locally assembled

He enumerated the fatalities from various accidents, with a clear trend indicating that passengers were more likely to die when travelling in locally assembled buses.

“It must be about how we build our buses; there is no regard to the specifications on materials and joinery,” Mr Ananda said.

In one high-speed head-on crash involving a Brazilian-assembled bus, it was the truck travelling in the opposite direction whose body caved in. The manufacturer of the ill-fated bus said his firm had done a perfect job assembling it.

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David Percival, the managing director of KVM, said the bus was built to the required standards.

“This is for the NTSA to work to re-validate the driving habits of Kenyan bus drivers. We take safety very seriously,” he said.

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