One in every five people who die from road injuries in Kenya is aged below 20 years, a Nation Newsplex investigation reveals.

Children and teenagers constituted 21 per cent or 476 of the 2,228 people who died in road crashes from January to October 17 this year, according to data from the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).

The number of young people who were killed on the roads in the 10 months is equivalent to passengers carried by 14 33-seater matatus.

As the world commemorates the Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims tomorrow, Newsplex  found that the number  of under 20s who die from road traffic injuries has increased over the last three years.

In 2015, this age group suffered 382 deaths, which was 12 per cent of all deaths. The following year, the figures almost doubled to 583, which was 20 per cent of all deaths.

Ms Bright Oywaya, the executive director of the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), said the increased number of children dying or being injured in road crashes is partly due to the growth of the middle class, which has resulted in a higher number of vehicles. 

She said more children go to schools that are far away from their homes, forcing them to use vehicles, while many more cross busy roads as they walk to schools.

“It is not uncommon to see a boda boda carrying up to seven pupils without helmets and reflective gear,” said Dr Duncan Kibogong, deputy director for Safety Strategies and County Committees of the NTSA.

He added that the increase in child deaths from injuries sustained in road crashes was in part due to the improved quality of data being captured by the authority over the last three years, including disaggregated data by different factors, such as age.

“Children are vulnerable to road traffic injuries because they are at different physical and development stages from adults,” said Mr Kibogong.

Children are short compared to adults, which makes it difficult for them to see their surroundings in traffic and for other road users to spot them easily. Also, because of their height, a vehicle is more likely to hit them on the chest and head, resulting in more grievous injuries, compared to adults who are more likely to be hit on the lower limbs.

“A child is top-heavy – the size of the child’s head relative to the rest of the body is greater than the ratio in adults. A child, therefore, has a higher centre of gravity than an adult, leading to a greater disposition to head injuries,” he said.

Children also have a less developed perception of depth, so they struggle to judge distance between themselves and other objects, particularly when both are in motion.

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Small children struggle to understand the sizes and speeds of vehicles from the sound of the engine as they approach, what direction a sound is coming from and consequently what direction a car is coming from.

In addition, young children are active, energetic, and often impulsive and easily distracted, which may lead them to suddenly run into the road.

Speed and distance are difficult for a child to judge but are essential for crossing a road safely. “The concept of left and right as positions relative to the body develops slowly, and is only well established after the age of about seven, Kibogong told Newsplex.

According to him a majority of children who are injured on the roads are pedestrians.

Globally, more than 500 children every day die from road traffic injuries, with 90 per cent of the fatalities happening in low-and middle-income countries such as Kenya, even though they have fewer cars and roads than the high-income nations.

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