Mental sickness to blame for increased road carnage, says NTSA

NTSA Programme Director Samuel Musumba. [Elvis Ogina, Standard] 

Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of increased road accidents that have forced the authorities back to the drawing board in a bid to reverse a trend that costs the country Sh734 billion annually.

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) noted that 80 per cent of road crashes are influenced by human behaviour, with the rest 20 being environmental and mechanical.

This is what has informed the launch of the National Road Safety Action Plan on Wednesday, with President William Ruto directing the Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen to ensure the numbers come down.

At least 1,213 people have lost their lives in the first three months of the year, a figure that alarmed NTSA.

“We always know the peak is in August and towards December due to the festive period. Things have changed,” said Programme Director Samuel Musumba.

He said from their investigation of some of the recent accidents, poor mental health played a role considering how experienced some of the drivers involved were.

“It is interesting that some of these drivers are very seasoned: 10 or 15 years’ experience yet they are doing daring moves on the road,” he said.

There are also cases of fatigue, abuse of alcohol and intentional speeding during rain.

“How do you explain when you arrest a person along Lang’ata Road at 3am on a Friday, then encounter the same individual again next Friday, sometimes in the same car and even the same clothes? That tells you there is something wrong. It is not that the person is hellbent on breaking the law,” he said.

Poor mental health, he said, has been linked to the Pwani University, Kenyatta University and the Modern Coast Tharaka Nithi road crashes.

“That is why we are looking at telematics. That is what will help us reconstruct these crashes to understand; what was the behaviour of the driver before the crash?”

Musumba said road crashes cost the country five per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is equivalent of Sh734 billion. 

Bright Oywaya, a road safety advocate and former board vice chair NTSA, said that besides other causes, there are infrastructural as well as legal issues that need to be looked at.

She recalled her days at NTSA when the agency battled with crashes at the Salgaa stretch in Nakuru, which later reduced when concrete barricades were placed to make it impossible for motorists to overtake.

“When you look at the roads, crashes do happen in specific areas. How do you explain a so-called reckless driver who drives safely from Mombasa only to crash at Kikopei where another motorist from Malaba has also crashed?” she said. “Behaviours do not happen in isolation.” 

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