Even with the annual exodus of people from towns to rural areas for the Christmas and New Year festivities, one would have thought that caution would be taken by road users and laws observed and enforced. However, that is further from the truth as accidents have been reported daily with over 300 people dying. This saw the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and the government come out guns blazing in efforts to curb the carnage.
I was recently speaking to a driver on one of the Nairobi routes and asked him what had caused the sharp increase. He told me that the real cause is mainly human error and corruption, which I agreed with completely. “You see, in the festive season, business is booming and hence many drivers and matatu owners want to make a killing. They will go on many long trips without rest”, he said.
Tired minds make an impaired judgment. Speeding to arrive quickly and return for more passengers has made sure that many do not reach their destinations.
Secondly, corruption has played a big part. In fact, one of my friends joked that when a policeman stops you in Europe and you put your hand in your pocket, they think you have a weapon. In Kenya, when you’re stopped by the police and you put your hand in your pocket, they start smiling.
I think that the directive by acting Interior secretary Fred Matiangi to deregister all driving schools and register them afresh is ill-advised. He is fixing the problem at the branches by uprooting the tree. That does not mean that the schools are entirely not at fault.
The government is tackling the problem from a reactive and not a planning point of view. I would advise him to conduct a survey of all stakeholders, public service vehicle saccos, drivers, passengers, accident victims and also the local mwananchi.
I am sure he would find the exact root cause of the road carnage. Once this has been found, we then need to focus on the solutions. Kenya can borrow a lot of strategies from Sweden, which is considered to have the world’s safest roads. Statistics show three out of every 100,000 Swedes die on roads each year.
With this law in place and enforcement in high gear, they have proven that there can be safer roads even with increased use.Compare this to Kenya where over 3, 000 deaths occur every year. This does not include those who are maimed. It is not only in Kenya but in many developing countries, there is an increase in death toll as car sales increase.
So how were the Swedes able to drastically reduce these numbers? Back in 1997, the Swedish parliament passed into law the “Vision Zero” plan. It promised to totally eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether.
The problem with Kenyan laws is that as much as they are good, they are rarely enforced. In Sweden, planning has followed implementation. For example, when awarding road construction tenders, priority is put on safety over speed and convenience. In Kenya, it is those with connections that are awarded tenders.
The government needs to come up with driver timing gadgets where they log in to check their driving hours, which should be set to a certain limit. This will ensure that we have alert drivers on our roads.
It is also clear that NTSA has achieved very little in the enforcement of traffic laws. It has concentrated on arresting drunkards but people still drink and drive. Its gains should be analysed and my view is that the Traffic Police Department should be entrusted to handle traffic matters but with a proper structure.
The last point, therefore, is for every road user to be vigilant and take care of themselves. Kenyans need to realise that safety starts with all of us. When we board a full matatu or overtake carelessly or drive drunk, we not only endanger ourselves but other road users.
Let us all commit to being safe road users while the government must play its part in enforcing the law. The necessary agencies need to go back to the drawing board and work on a long-term strategy to curb road carnage and make our roads safe.