Kenya loses an average of 3,000 lives through road accidents annually. This places it among countries with the highest road fatalities globally.
Last year will remain the darkest of all, as families of up to 3,539 victims were left grappling with the agony of losing their loved ones through road accidents.
The road crashes that claim thousands of lives and leave scores nursing serious injuries put into question the achievements and objectives of road safety agencies in the country.
Kenyans have been treated to a circus of a blame game between the National Transport and Safety Authority, which is mandated to formulate safety policies, and the police, who are supposed to enforce the laws.
The NTSA described as worrying statistics that 90 people died in 72 hours in December.
Road Safety director Njeri Waithaka told the Star that over 330 people lost their lives in December alone.
She identified black spots as Salgaa, Sachang’wan, Migaa and Soysambu in Nakuru county, Bonje in Kilifi county, Manyani in Taita Taveta county and Lukenya and Maanzoni in Machakos county.
Other dangerous road sections are Kiima Kiu/Salama and Konza in Makueni county, and Ntulele and Duka Moja market centre in Narok county.
Kenol to Sagana and Kenol to Murang’a sections have also been listed as dangerous.
Waithaka said most road carnage victims were aged between the 20 and 44 years.
NTSA said the number of road accidents in 2017 was 58 per cent, of which 91 per cent was due to human error.
The authority attributed the crashes to speeding, reckless driving, dangerous overtaking, drink driving, and bad attitude, among other issues.
Following the recent surge in road accidents, the NTSA has been on the spot, with some MPs calling for its disbandment. The clamour started after the 72-hour massacre.
Waithaka told the Star that as much as the authority is committed to keeping roads safe, the objective cannot be achieved single-handedly.
“Road safety is a collective responsibility, and thus we call upon all stakeholders, including the traffic police, to play their part,” she said.
Waithaka said the biggest challenge, for instance, is poor road signage, especially along the roads identified as black spots.
She said the Kenya National Highways Authority should do proper signage and warnings, which must be placed at proper locations and visible to all drivers.
“We want to see a situation where a crossing is totally demarcated. Building a road and seeing it smooth is not enough. Marking it is equally important in terms of safety,” she said.
Waithaka said this will ensure all road users have an equal right, and not only vehicles.
She said the enmity between the public and the authority is another challenge that they are grappling with.
Many drivers, she said, hold a false notion and myths that the authority is maliciously targeting them just to collect fines.
Waithaka said this has occasionally put their officers at risk, with some of its officers assaulted by rogue drivers.
“We are not your enemies. All we are out to ensure is that there is maximum safety on the roads and not vice-versa,” she said.
KeNHA director general Peter Mundinia, however, has a different perspective.
To him, the blame games of who did what and why must stop for the country to move forward.
Mundinia told the Star all key players in road safety have acknowledged the fact that 95 per cent of these road accidents are caused by careless drivers.
He said only five per cent can be attributed to road conditions.
“For us to win the war on reducing road carnages, we need to incorporate the three E’s of Educating, Enforcement of the law and Engineering,” Mundinia said.
“Those mandated with law enforcement must first ensure before any vehicle is licensed, the drivers are highly qualified and retrained on the new traffic safety rules. There must be a vibrant public education on the use of the road to minimise pedestrian knock-down, among other things.”
In terms of engineering, Mundinia called for a collective look at the aspects of road engineering technicalities and the vehicle component.
“Kenya is a society where those on the wrong side of the law will apply escapist tactics to blame others for their mistakes. As a driver and a road user, I think what would be best is to analyse every accident singularly and stop the blanket condemnation. We cannot prejudge all roads to be bad,” he said.
He said as an engineer, comparing the Mai Mahiu to Naivasha stretch, which is more technical, with the 11km Nakuru-Salgaa stretch, “the Mai Mahiu should be the one giving us headaches and not the Salgaa black spot”.
Mundinia said drivers on Mahi Mahiu tend to be extra cautious because they know any silly mistake will be disastrous, while those on the Salgaa stretch are just careless because they know the road is well, and on ascending the lane, they do freewheeling.
“We are innocent as an authority, yet we are being beaten and accused of other people’s mistakes. We have cleared all potholes and bushes that would block clear vision. We have even removed any billboards that could tamper with vision of signages, but the truth is as we strive to modernise our roads, they will be more death traps, unless we develop a culture of good manners,” he said.
He said if there were more potholes on the roads, fatalities would be less as drivers tend to slow down.
The said the country should not get stuck in what has already happened but rather allow a public debate on what measures can be applied to reduce the accidents.
SAFER UNDER SACCOS?
Transport CS James Macharia agreed that looking for who to blame will not help the situation.
He cited major contributors of the accidents as lack of respect for traffic rules by all road users, specifically drivers and motorcyclists, speeding, careless overtaking and driving under influence.
The CS also cited a transport system that has focused on profit maximisation at the expense of safety, unroadworthy vehicles of all categories, road infrastructure designs and conditions and laxity in enforcement of traffic laws.
Macharia said there are over 600 registered saccos, with over three million drivers countrywide.
He said since the saccos were created, the PSV sector has been better monitored and regulated than ever before.
“These saccos have tamed the industry and instilled a sense of accountability and is setting the path to professionalism. We can confidently say as a result, we have seen a 10 per cent reduction in the accidents,” he said.
As to whether guardrails erected along the roads are safe to international standards, Macharia said vandalism has left some of the guardrails very sharp, exposing motorists to more risk in case of an accident.
The CS said disbanding NTSA will not be the solution. He said no amount of surveillance by NTSA and enforcement will individually cater for the three million drivers on the roads.
“Let us take a holistic view of the mandate of NTSA. It contains numerous functions besides road safety. Though it is the lead agency, it should not be the only one to implement road safety,” he said.
Macharia said it does not take three years to reverse an unsafe road user culture that has been embedded in a society for 50 years.
“We ought to look at how we can support NTSA and other key players, particularly the traffic police and road agencies, to fast-track the changes in road safety that we want, “the CS said.
He called for critical evaluation of where the country is in terms of handling road accidents for corrective measures to be taken.
"But when we keep playing blame games, lives continue to be lost, leaving critical issues unaddressed," he said.
Amid efforts to curb the road accidents, the government, through various stakeholders, has tried to put in place mechanisms to reduce these incidents.
This started in 2014 with the gazettement of guidelines on managing public service vehicles.
The notice spells guidelines for night travel, a requirement that PSVs operate under saccos and for long-distance trucks to be fitted with fleet management system.
It also states that PSV operators should employ staff on contract and boldly display the names of the saccos or companies on the vehicles.
These measures were aimed at making the PSV operators take full control of their businesses, a move the NTSA said will instill discipline in the sector.
The transport ministry says since the government started enforcing laws on driving under the influence of alcohol in December 2013, the initiative has successfully reduced accidents caused by drunk drivers particularly in Nairobi.
By 2014, over 1,024 drivers had been arrested and Sh14.2 million collected as fines from reckless drivers.
The rate of accidents especially in December, however, means a lot more needs to be done. It remains to be seen who will pick up the slack, now that it’s not clear where the buck stops.