Most drivers are not experienced in basic road signage, NTSA test drive reveals

Wreckages of a Matatu that was involved on a tragic accident at Londiani Junction on July 1,2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The tragic Londiani accident that claimed more than 50 people has for, the umpteenth time, exposed government’s lackluster attention to road safety.

Whenever road crashes happen, they are met with the usual knee-jerk reaction. The latest carnage is not the first, neither might it be the last unless authorities move with speed and put in place remedial measures.

The accident came at a time National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) had rolled out an education and sensitisation campaign seeking to assess competency and suitability of public service and heavy commercial vehicle drivers.

Already in its third week, the drive is targeting some 32,964 PSV drivers whose licenses have expired. The drivers are required to report to the nearest NTSA Driver Test Unit and undergo theory test and practical theory application.

The re-test is being conducted in centres at Nairobi, Thika, Machakos, Nakuru, Kericho, Mombasa, Eldoret, Kisumu, Kakamega, Meru, Embu, Nyeri, Kisii and Garissa.

In the next few days, commercial heavy drivers will follow suit as it becomes mandatory that renewal of licenses will only be done once a driver has passed both theory and practical theory tests.

Before going for the exam, one has to book online and pay Sh1,050 through the e-citizen account. Applicants have a three-month window to sit for the retest. Once the period expires, one has to apply afresh.

Those who fail, however, are given a second chance, according to Wilson Tuikong who is NTSA’s deputy director and head of Safety Compliance, Driver and Testing. This first phase of campaign is targeting holders of B1, D1, D2, D3 and D4 licenses.

A section of drivers, officials of Motorists Association of Kenya (MAK), Road Safety Association of Kenya (RSAK) and Matatu Owners Association (MWA) claim re-test drive is scheme by government to fleece drivers.

A woman overwhelmed after losing a relative in the Londiani accident on July 1, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The written exam tests a driver’s basic knowledge on road safety, highway code, road signs and model town board. Questions revolve around tools to carry during a journey, entry age to qualify as a driver, maximum speed limit within a town and spots were pedestrians are supposed to cross.

Assessment is also on when a driver is supposed to overtake, traffic lights, impact of foggy weather, distance to be kept between vehicles on a highway, requisite interior components of a vehicle and vehicles that have right of way among others.

On practical application drivers being examined on general driving and drivers’ attitude with focus on lane discipline or use, overtaking; traffic lights, roundabouts and barriers; adjustment to different road conditions; observance and obedience of road signs and signals; road courtesy; hazard procedure; alertness and anticipation; and adherence to distance.

When The Standard visited the Nairobi NTSA Driver Test Unit on Likoni Road on June 26, 2023, it was apparent that most drivers did not understand the model town board, which is a representation of different roads and signs one is bound to encounter while on real driving in Kenya.

Some of the key features on the model town model include, yellow kerbs, traffic island, traffic light, roundabout, flash parking, angle parking, central reserve, pedestrian crossing, and major and minor road.

“Now you understand why we are insisting of the retest. It is becoming clear many drivers are not well versed with the roads. And this is the reason we are doing this to reduce the number of fatalities on our roads,” said Tuikong.

In this particular day, a group of about 30 drivers had turned up to be re-tested in an exercise lasting few hours.

“It is unfortunate that people are driving out there yet they barely understand road signs. “We decided to start with PSV drivers because they bear the biggest responsibility by the sheer large number of passengers they carry,” said Tuikong, clarifying that this is just one of the three aspects of road safety.

There other two are enforcement largely the function of police, and road design by various agencies like Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) and Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) among others.

The education and sensitisation is informed on the need to reduce road carnage. “We are carrying out this retest as one way of helping in reducing fatalities on our roads,” explained Tuikong.

Between January 1 and December 13, 2022, a total of 4,392 road users died. According to NTSA statistics, some 9,315 people were seriously injured while 6,691 others were slightly injured.

The number of deaths rose by 121 from 4,271 in 2021 to 4,392 out of which were 1,595 pedestrians, 1,190 (motorcyclists), 793 (drivers), 411 (pavilion passengers) and 403 drivers. 

The authority links accidents to human errors such as speeding, dangerous overtaking, driving under the influence of alcohol, fatigue, and ignoring traffic lights and road signage.

It is emerging the Londiani accident was as a result of human error with the driver of the ill-fated trailer that triggered the carnage believed to have engaged the vehicle on free-wheel.

As at March this year, some 974 deaths had been recorded by NTSA, which gave the breakdown as 330 (pedestrians), 265 (motorcyclists), 171 (passengers), 98 (drivers), 93 (pillion passengers) and 17 pedal cyclists.  

According to NTSA director of Technical Services Eng Christine Oguti, poor designs on section of roads is also to be blamed for the frequent carnage.

“At NTSA, we have done an audit on hot spot and shared the information with KeNHA. I glad that the Nithi Bridge will be undergoing reconstruction following our recommendation,” said Oguti.

Some of the other notorious hot spots include Kipkarren River, Kaburengu steep both in Kakamega County, Kinungi in Naivasha, and Outer Ring Road and Mombasa Road in Nairobi                                  

But some drivers are not happy with the exercise. Shadrack Mugendi Mutiga does not understand why he should be subjected to the re-test yet he has a clean driving record.

“Why I am being targeted yet for those many years I have been on the road I have never caused an accident, and neither have I been arraigned in court over traffic related offenses?” posed Mugendi while waiting for his matatu parked at Donholm stage to fill at capacity.

Buoyed by the fact that he was among the few drivers to be feted by Directline Assurance Company for best practice, 42-year-old father of four believes with the honour and his 18-year experience on the road, the re-test is not only a waste of time but a ploy to defraud him his meagre wages.

A traffic police controlling traffic in Kisumu town. [Dennish Ochieng, Standard]

As his license nears expiry, Mugendi is struggling to come to terms that he will have to sit for written and practical exams to test his competence on the road.

Ironically, while he thinks it is a waste of time, in his own admission, Mugenda has long forgotten most of what he was taught in 1999 at Vision Driving School in Mombasa where he went for training.

“We are wondering why all suddenly, NTSA is compelling us to go back to class after all those years on the road. Most of us have forgotten the syllabus; we can’t remember what was taught,” he says.

The man is currently with employed by Salty Sacco that plies on Eastlands routes. Having heard tales from colleagues who have undergone re-test at NTSA’s Driver Test Unit along Likoni Road, Mugendi is already convinced the exercise is marred by corruption.

“I am made to understand that for you to pass the exam, one has to part with 10,000 shillings or else, examiners make sure you fail. This is just another scheme to collect money, we are appealing to President Ruto to order NTSA to stop taking us for a ride,” he stated.

But Tuikong, NTSA’s deputy director and head of Safety Compliance, Driver and Testing dismissed Mugendi’s corruption claims, insisting that examiners are diligently doing their job.

“Of course such claims are bound to emerge and you can’t stop people from saying what suits them after they fail the retest. However, I don’t think our examiners have been asking for bribes,” said Tuikong.

But officials of Motorists Association of Kenya (MAK), Road Safety Association of Kenya (RSAK) and Matatu Owners Association (MWA) are turning the heat up against NTSA claiming the authority is out to fleece drivers.

“Instead of addressing the real problem of systematic failure that has allowed issuance of licenses corruptly, sham inspection of PSVs and poor road designs, the government has now opened another stream of getting money from motorists,” said MAK’s chairperson Peter Murima.

According to Murima who warned the re-test risks being challenged in a court of law, public participation should have preceded roll-out of the exercise.

“In our view, there is no need of violating the rights of motorists by subjecting them to the retest. The approach should have been going for motorists whose driving competencies, skills, licenses and records are questionable,” says Murima.

On his part, RSAK chairman David Kiarie was categorical that money is being collected from drivers under the guise of assessing them. He said were the government serious, it should have started by firmly dealing with entrenched corruption in the transport sector.

“I don’t expect behavioural change after the retest, this is just a cosmetic exercise whose main objective is to squeeze money out of drivers,” stated Kiarie.

Dickson Mbugua, MWA chairman, says it is a good idea but the net must be cast wide to include all motorists and other road users in general.

According to Mbugua, there are many unqualified and incompetent drivers on Kenyan roads whose permits were either bought or acquired through shortcuts.  

“We welcome the retest, it should cut across the board and not appear to target a certain category of drivers. Otherwise, we shall consider targeting PSV drivers alone as selective application of the law,” said Mbugua.

At Likoni Road, the drivers complained of discrimination claiming private motorists must be re-tested too.

Tom Ouma was bemused that he was being taken through the highway code yet he has been driving for the last 22 years.

“I didn’t know that I was supposed to revise the traffic regulations code ahead of the retest. I came here expecting something different, but not being tested on what I have been doing on the roads,” lamented Ouma.

While singling out digital taxi drivers for not being keen on the road, Tuikong says 80 per cent of the accidents are as a result of human error. 

“I have personally been observing and realised that drivers operating on digital taxi platforms are ever on their mobile phones while on the steering wheel. This is a worrying habit that needs to be tamed,” he noted.