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Here is three-point formula for boda boda safety on our roads

By Isaac Kalua Green | October 3rd 2021
Female bodaboda rider carrying her pillion passenger along Bidii –Swara Road. [Martin Ndiema, Standard]

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I choose to remind my fellow Kenyans that boda boda is the biggest employer.

The Teacher Service Commission (TSC), which is Kenya’s largest formal employer has a respectable work force of nearly 400,000. On the other hand, the boda boda sector has employed an estimated 1.1 million people who earn an average of Sh1,000 per rider per day. Collectively, they earn Sh1.1 billion daily which will amount to about Sh401 billion by the end of 2021.

No wonder, each boda boda rider supports six Kenyans on average. This means that 7.7 million people depend on boda boda sector for their livelihoods. Each boda boda rider transports an average of three passengers in an hour for about 12 hours daily. Indeed, we are a riding nation because boda bodas make 39.6 million rides daily. Accordingly, we must do everything possible to secure and prosper this sector.

The National Safety and Transport Authority (NTSA) tabulates that there were 6,052 accidents in 2019 and 2020, most of which were motorcycle and pedestrian-related.

To halt this boda boda gravy train of injury and death I suggest the following three actions as a quick win.

The first step is to enhance accountability in this sector. Currently, our roads are awash with unlicensed riders. Less than 15 per cent of boda boda riders have valid driving licences. They are time bombs on two wheels. These unlicensed and hence untrained riders must be sensibly weeded out. Those who sell motorbikes to them or employ them must also be held accountable. Fundamentally, no motorcycle dealer should sell a motorcycle to anyone who does not present a valid licence and no motorcycle owner should allow anyone on a bike without a valid licence. We need to root this holistic accountability approach in law and enforce it tirelessly. We just have to be responsible for common good.

Possession of valid licences will help NTSA to estimate the number of roadworthy motorcycles for strategic planning purposes, including inspections. Currently, NTSA has an estimated record of 2.5 million motorcycles most of which are either unroadworthy or have been exported to neighboring countries.

The second step is an issue that will protect riders and their passengers – HELMETS. Many head injuries, including those that lead to death, can be prevented by high quality helmets. The World Health Organisation has revealed that ‘correct helmet use can lead to a 42 per cent reduction in the risk of fatal injuries and a 69 per cent reduction in the risk of head injuries.’ As such, we must prioritise quality helmet usage in the boda boda sector. Embarrassingly, most helmets in the Kenyan market today are substandard. Kenya Bureau of Standards must be supported to crack down the usage of the killer helmets that crash like glass at minimal impact.

Third, we must ensure that our roads will enhance boda boda safety. Towards this end, we can borrow a leaf from WHO’s recommended road safety strategies. One of these strategies calls for roads to be designed with motorcycles and bicycles in mind. Our existing roads unnecessarily strain users because they are constricted.

Experts project that by 2030, there will be five million motorcycles in Kenya. We must prepare for this inevitable drastic increase of boda bodas and personal bikes. As such, we must update the boda boda software by ensuring widespread training as an opportunity for creating jobs and licensing of riders. We must also cleverly update boda boda hardware by ensuring full compliance to regular servicing and widespread usage of quality helmets.

In the same hardware vein, I urge MPS to spearhead laws that will make Kenya the market leader of electric motorbikes. They are cheaper, healthier and sustainable. Think green Act green!

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