If Kenyan roads could talk!

BY JAMES MULIRO Many of those who have been permanently ‘disabled’ by tragic road accidents live with the fond memories of the past when they would engage in productive socio-economic activities supporting their families. Many still bear the scars that remind them of their lucky escape as they hope that not again will they fall victim of a road accident. Globally, at least 1.24 million people die each year in road accidents. Developing countries such as Kenya are the most affected as they have the highest death rates arising from road accidents. This is despite the low levels of vehicle volume compared to developed countries, which have the highest levels of vehicular density. Surprisingly, road accidents are the leading cause of death for young people aged between 15 to 29 years, an age group that is very productive and just entering or having shortly entered the global workforce. In Kenya, it is estimated that 3,000 people die in road accidents each year, with 40% of these being pedestrians. While the figure may seem low when compared to the current population of over 45 million people, the economic cost of road crashes is 5.6% of the country’s GDP. This is equivalent to a colossal Sh300 billion annually. According to the National Transport and Safety Authority Road Safety Status Report 2015 released last month, young people aged between 20 and 44 years are the most affected in road fatalities in Kenya with the peak age being 30 – 34 years. “This age bracket is the most productive lot of the society. They are high-risk group as relates to road safety risk factors-speed, drink driving, more travel etc,” says the NTSA in their annual road death toll report. In 2015, road fatalities per 100,000 people stood at 6.4 deaths compared to 6.34 deaths in 100,000 people in 2014, the report states. Road fatalities, have however, been on the decline in the last five years, reaching an all time low of 12.34 deaths per 10,000 vehicles in 2015. Nairobi County had the highest road fatalities in the country resulting in 668 deaths with the majority being 497 pedestrian deaths. The county contributed 22% of all the national fatalities in the year 2015. The city has continued a trend as in 2014; it also contributed the highest number of fatalities with 561deaths reported. “Despite the fact that the absolute road fatalities in 2015 show a rise as compared to 2014, the fatality rates compensating for rising population, motorisation and paved roads reveal a decrease in road fatalities. However these declining fatality rates as demonstrated are unacceptably high and can be reduced further with appropriate interventions. Vulnerable road users remain the most affected,” the NTSA said when it released the report. It is interesting that while it has been assumed that incidents of road accidents often surge during holiday seasons such as Christmas and in the New Year, most of lethal road traffic accidents often occur at between 5pm and 10 pm with the peak hour being 8pm. In the last two years (2014 and 2015), the highest road fatalities occured during Saturdays followed by Sunday. The two days of the weekend contribute the highest number of fatalities with a combined figure averaging 38% in 2014 and 2015. Some reasons given for such trend are high speeds by motorists, instances in which motorcycles operate in the dark with no proper gear such as reflector jackets, pedestrians crossing the road at undesignated areas, thereby being easily knocked down by speeding vehicles. Other reasons attributed to the high instances of travel during the weekend, high motorist speeds especially on the highways, drink driving, drink walking, drink riding and generally poor driving/riding habits and skills at night. Cases of motorists using the roads they are unfamiliar with during weekends also contribute to high instances of road crashes during this period. The strain that road accidents have on the family and the economy is enormous. There is the health burden, which comes about when road crashes are sudden and violent often leading to disabilities and long-term psychological effects. “It strains both the government and the family of the victim in terms of provision of healthcare. It disorients the family structure by robbing away their dependants. It affects the most productive members of the society,” the authority says. Given such enormous negative impact on families and the economy, are the efforts the NTSA is making in reducing cases of road fatalities in Kenya bearing fruit? The authority has outlined a number of measures to curb many cases of road accidents. Some of these include engagement and collaboration with different roads agencies in better planning, design, construction and maintenance of roads through improved design standards, road safety assessments, road safety audits and black spots treatment programmes and engagement with the National Police Service to enhance traffic law enforcement. The latter has specifically been an ongoing concern with police and the authority mounting road safety checks to apprehend those exceeding the recommended speed limit, drink driving or flouting other traffic offences. Apart from raising and sustaining public education and awareness, the NTSA is also engaging the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to address corruption and integrity related challenges facing the transport sector. Equally, the authority plans to engage the private sector to install pedestrian fences in five high-risk roads in Nairobi to reduce the number of road fatalities that occur in such areas going forward. The authority is also implementing the instant fine programme for minor traffic offences. From March this year, the NTSA will also roll out a new driving and testing curriculum. The new curriculum is aimed at improving driving skills, attitudes, driver training, testing and licensing system.

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