You need no welcoming sign on the 20km stretch between Sachangwan and Salgaa to know you are on, as locals say, the “highway to hell”. The scars of accidents past dot the road. Broken glasses. Mangled vehicle parts. And all too often, the cries of the dying and the maimed, the widowed and the orphaned, and the parents who are bereaved.
The deadly stretch in Nakuru county has killed 70 people this year, including more than 50 in the past two weeks. It covers Sobea, Salgaa, Migaa, Sachangwan, Total and Mau Summit.
At Migaa, sharp corners, foggy weather and speeding trailers are a recipe for disaster. Despite a black spot signage to caution drivers, dozens of people die in accidents there every year, especially over the December holidays.
According to police reports, Migaa accounts for 21 per cent of road accident deaths in the area. Records at the Rift Valley traffic indicate that 17 crashes have occurred there in the past two years — eight last year and nine this year, an 11-month record.
“From January to November 19 this year, casualties of road crashes along the stretch stand at 70,” said Ziro Arome, the traffic police boss.
“In the past two years, the spot has recorded about 17 out of 76 crashes which have occurred along the stretch.”
Prominent victims include State House Comptroller Wilson Chepkwony, who died in an accident at the Ngata bridge in Sachangwan in 1999, and lawyer Geoffrey Oriaro’s wife, child and cousin, who died in Nakuru in September 2015 while travelling from his burial in Siaya.
DEATHS THIS YEAR
On December 16, five people died in a road accident near Makutano junction some 20km from Sachangwan. The 9pm incident involved a matatu heading to Eldoret and two trucks. The bodies were taken to Eldama Ravine mortuary.
The accident happened about 15km from where six Kalenjin musicians and a driver died at Kamara bridge on December 9. The six died after their vehicle collided with a truck transporting chicken feed from Eldoret to Kiambu.
The crash also happened some 20km from Sachangwan, where 37 people perished in a pileup involving more than 15 vehicles on December 12.
Last month, a day after the world marked World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on November 19, Salgaa was at it again. Eleven passengers and the driver aboard a 14-seater shuttle died after the vehicle was involved in an accident at Teachers in Salgaa.
On April 22, in Ol Kalou, Nyandarau county, preparations for a dowry payment ceremony were in the offing. However, an accident at Sobea along the dreaded Nakuru- Eldoret highway killed a family of five headed to the preparations.
The family was in an 11-seater shuttle when it collided with the truck as it tried to overtake. “Two women and four children died on the spot during the 9pm accident. The injured were rushed to Nakuru Level Four Hospital,” Rongai police boss Japheth Kioko said.
But no day has been darker than January 31, 2009. More than 100 people were killed when they rushed to scoop unleaded petrol after a tanker overturned.
Residents accused the National Transport and Safety Authority of being a big let-down to Kenyans.
They said that while NTSA reports that road carnages are reducing, accidents continue to stalk Kenyans on this stretch.
Data from NTSA also notes that most accidents happen during the festive period.
“It’s unfortunate that the government is aware of the deadly stretch but they have been ignoring it. Little has been done apart from empty promises. How many people does the government want to die here before they act?” asked Peter Kamau, a resident at the Migaa-Salgaa stretch.
Road accidents are the third-leading cause of death in Kenya after malaria and HIV-Aids, according to a recent road safety report.
Residents said the economic impact and death toll cannot be over-emphasised.
“We ask that the stretch between Total Junction and Nakuru Town be immediately designed and made a dual carriage; the road signage be erected and be monitored; those vandalising them and using them for jua kali be apprehended and prosecuted,” said Japhet Korir, a Sachangwan resident.
Residents also asked the government to have a frontage road with an underpass approach starting at least 5km on either side to prevent parking of long trucks on the shoulders of the road.
They also urged the government to expand the Nakuru-Eldama Ravine-Makutano road to allow larger trucks to use it. This would decongest the Molo-Nakuru section. Also worth expanding, they said, is the Nakuru-Njoro-Molo-Mau Summit road.
The uproar from Kenyans in the past forced the authorities to act. Speed restrictions were put in place, freewheeling was banned and several road signs warning drivers of the lurking dangers were erected.
However, all those measures seem to have failed. Residents are now seeking divine intervention.
The name ‘Salgaa’ evokes sad memories due to its reputation as one of the deadliest black spots in Kenya.
As you drive along the 12km stretch from Kibunja to Salgaa trading centre on the Eldoret-Nairobi highway, broken glasses and mangled vehicle parts dot the road — a testament to the ugly accidents that have claimed many lives.
“The name Salgaa is derived from the Kipsigis words ‘sal’, which means to praise, and ‘gaa’ meaning home. Salgaa therefore means praising one’s home,” said Richard Kipsang, a resident.
However, there is little to praise here. Apart from the many road crashes, Salgaa has attracted lots of negative publicity due to rampant prostitution and high prevalence of HIV-Aids.
It is estimated that more than 500 trucks stop in Salgaa every night, making it a magnet for twilight girls.
Whether it is the thriving sex trade, oil siphoning, deadly road crashes or scores of youth stealing from accident victims, Salgaa has seen it all.
Highway robbers normally climb slow-moving trucks, tearing tarpaulins and offloading goods from them.
However, what is worrying many residents is the accident black spot.
The government has announced that it will spend Sh500 million to construct a dual carriageway along the 50km killer stretch from Sobea to Makutano to tame road carnage.
Transport PS John Mosonik said the government will also build a checking point, where lorries will be inspected to ensure their brakes are working, and a holding yard in Kibunja.
Most crashes are caused by trucks, whose brakes fail as they descend the steep stretch between Kibunja and Salgaa.
The government also plans to widen the Nyanja-Kamara bridge and repair and install new guard rails.
“We will have to divert Sh500 million meant for other projects for construction of a dual carriageway to minimise the number of accidents at the deadly spot,” he said.
Mosonik also said the Kenya Highway Authority will erect speed bumps along the road.
He said the ministry has dispatched technical officers from KenHA as an emergency measure to help curb road carnage.
“They will erect more bumps in black spots and mark the road to ensure not a single death is reported,” the PS said.
Mosonik said over 80 per cent of road accidents in Kenya are as a result of human error.
Whereas most motorists and road users blame KenHA for failing to find a lasting solution to accidents, Mosonik said accidents on the highway were caused by speeding and overtaking.
The PS said tendering for the construction of a dual carriageway from Salgaa to Kibunja is ongoing, adding that the work would begin in February.
A spot-check by the Star along the highway found that several roadblocks have been erected, with more traffic officers regulating movement of vehicles.
Mosonik said the government is keen to reduce mortality, morbidity and disability from road accidents.
He said the country is losing its workforce and billions of shillings to preventable accidents.
Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui warned locals against vandalising road signage. He called on drivers to observe discipline instead of waiting for police and NTSA officers to enforce the law.
“When you steal a road sign to sell as scrap metal or make a jiko, your fate is the same as one who has killed,” Kinyanjui said.
He said the county and its partners will train locals near accident hot spots on emergency response, as they are often the first at scenes of accident. Kinyanjui said the county is working together with police to ensure road safety is adhered to during the festive season.
“You don’t have to speed or overload to make extra trips to cash in on the high number of travellers during the festive season. An entrepreneurial sacco should increase vehicles in its flat,” the governor said
Kinyanjui called for a county emergency call centre to coordinate emergency services. He added that the county is improving ambulance services as per recommendations from a health task force he constituted on his first day in office.
By October this year, according to the report, only eight of the 23 county ambulances were functioning. The report also highlighted that the county lacks skilled medics attached to the ambulances.
Kinyanjui warned reckless drivers that they will be punished in accordance with the Traffic Act.
“For those who freewheel, there will be an immediate revocation of their licences, and this will apply to all drivers. Reckless driving on our roads will no longer be tolerated,” he said.
And on Monday, the county began collecting trauma data from eyewitnesses, first responders and rescuers, and relatives of accident victims on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway. The data collected will be used by the county and national governments to set up a trauma centre in Salgaa.