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November 19, 2018

NTSA should move beyond speed cameras

A Traffic Officer Edwin Okello display one of the 20 speed guns donated by the World Bank through its senior Highway Engineer, Transport and ICT Engineer Solomon Waithaka  at the offices of the NTSA in Nairobi on March 02 for use by NTSA officers.Looking on are his fellow Traffic officersPHOTO/COLLINS KWEYU
A Traffic Officer Edwin Okello display one of the 20 speed guns donated by the World Bank through its senior Highway Engineer, Transport and ICT Engineer Solomon Waithaka at the offices of the NTSA in Nairobi on March 02 for use by NTSA officers.Looking on are his fellow Traffic officersPHOTO/COLLINS KWEYU

The National Transport Safety Authority, the government agency charged with improving safety on our roads, is quite unpopular with motorists.

Not least because of sting operations it sets up on unsuspecting drivers who exceed speed limits on highways.

The stealthy nature of such operations, with nondescript personal vehicles positioned strategically to nab speedsters, and the ad hoc courts that appear just around a corner or other places that offer little avenue for escape for drivers have come to be seen as shakedown set-ups.

Hefty fines for ostensibly breaching the speed limit by even one or two or 10 kilometres per hour are imposed but the vast majority of the cases are where Kenyans part with cash to avoid court.

The rationale behind such tactics is to curb speed which is seen as a major cause of accidents.

This in itself is not bad.

Indeed, the NTSA website lists daily statistics for speed violations, fatal accidents and so on.

Being that it is a relatively new body, we should not cheer the fact that its own statistics show little improvement in fatalities on Kenyan roads despite its operations hitting Kenyans hard in the pockets these last few months.

As of 13 July 2015, the NTSA reported 1,590 people killed in road accidents including 698 pedestrians, 166 drivers, 353 passengers, 117 boda boda passengers, 32 cyclists and 224 motorcyclists.

This compares to a total of 1457 dead at a similar point last year meaning fatalities this year are up by 9.1 per cent.

Obviously much responsibility for road safety lies with the users and not NTSA but since it is a government body charged with safety improvement, its activities must be scrutinised in light of this clear lack of progress.

Indeed, it must be asked whether the principal activities it has come to be known for, that is, busting and shaking down drivers, contribute in any way to improving safety on our roads.

No question speeds need to be moderated. But the extraordinary zeal and effort it has put into catching speeding drivers, complete with policemen and branded vehicles in tow, contrasts negatively with its own statistics which show road accidents are on the rise.

Meaning, perhaps, that this body could be devoting too much of its resources in the wrong tactics when its manpower could be deployed more productively elsewhere.

This past month, for example, Waiyaki Way has seen some road works of the usual kind, patching up holes that emerge after each rainy season.

Only that this time, the contractor has been carving out rectangular holes where repairs are needed and leaving these craters open overnight or even over two days. Motorists unaware of the existence of these traps are being forced into dangerous, last minute manoeuvres to avoid damaging their vehicles or even overturning them.

Accidents have happened as some drivers hit emergency brakes and other vehicles ram them from behind. It is at such times that we expect the NTSA to show expanded scope in its reasoning.

Clearly, such hazardous behaviour by a contractor is a huge safety risk especially when such man-made pits on the roads are not marked to indicate their presence. Is NTSA, which continues to pitch camp on this highway during this period, not alive to this danger or does it have to be pointed out? Shouldn’t such a contractor be summoned and penalised heavily for such negligence to ensure road safety?

We need to see more holistic thinking when it comes to ensuring road safety not merely engaging in get-cash-quick operations that do little to help anyone except the recipients of people’s hard earned cash.

Pedestrians top those killed this year at 698 while motorcyclists at 224 are again on pace to put up big numbers. While many pedestrians are probably knocked down on open roads, the safety of those within city streets is also fraught with danger.

This is because while cars for the most part stop at red lights in the city to allow pedestrians to cross, motorcycles do not.

On many occasions one has to jump out of the way or step backwards to avoid a boda boda speeding in between the stopped vehicles. Many have been hit.

Again we expect NTSA to see this as a road safety menace and deal with them.

Recently, the southern bypass was clogged as three trailer trucks stalled on the highway causing major traffic.

Instead of buying these gleaming double cabin trucks with the NTSA logo emblazoned on the sides, perhaps this organisation can buy tow trucks to tow stalled lorries and trailers from the road to ease traffic flow.

The issue of road safety is complex but the NTSA must expand its operations beyond police checkpoints for speed and begin to tackle many other areas to reduce accidents.

Mbugua is a Communications Consultant and comments on topical issues.

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