- Grave rush: The World Health Organisation estimates that, by the year 2030, road accidents will have overtaken diabetes, HIV/Aids and heart diseases to become number one killers. In Kenya, drivers and pedestrians seem eager to achieve those projections, with over 1,000 deaths recorded between January and April
Some people think road accidents are child’s play. Some people think road accidents only affect others, not them. Some people think road accidents occur only when using certain vehicle models. Some people think road accidents are few in the country. How mistaken they are! How unfortunate they are! What a hazardous situation they put themselves in!
When drivers nod on the wheel, the world goes on without missing a beat — until the vehicle mows down a group of kindergarten kids. When pedestrians cross the road at a bend, the world goes on without missing a beat — until one gets run over. When a police officer takes a bribe and allows an overloaded vehicle through a roadblock, the world goes on without missing a beat — until the braking system fails out of the extra weight.
And when death arises from this collective negligence, everyone turns and points a finger towards the next man, blaming them for what they did and telling them what they should have done right. Too bad, because at that time, it is too late. Post-accident talk is insignificant talk.
Accidents are categorised according to who or what is involved and the cause. These two parameters give rise to:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedal-cycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
The most common traffic offences
- Free-wheeling (where you engage the neutral gear because you want to save fuel. This is the major cause of accidents in the Molo-Sachangwan-Salgaa area)
- Reckless driving
The police vs the public
There is a group of people who come to mind whenever road accidents are mentioned. These are traffic police officers, who are charged with enforcing traffic laws and keeping order on our roads. But this group does its job — plus two more — according to the public.
Police officers have been accused of harassing road users for corrupt ends. Over these harassment claims, the traffic commandant says officers only use force when offenders resist arrests or orders.
That the force has many corrupt elements is an open secret that Vigilance House is dealing with through internal measures. Police Headquarters has sacked, demoted and punished proven corrupt officers.
However, there is a challenge in prosecuting graft cases due to lack of evidence. For a corruption case to be effectively prosecuted, one must prove demand and soliciting, and there must be a giver and a receiver. In traffic corruption cases, the givers are never willing to testify or, if they agree, they will deny giving the officer anything.
Other issues that promote highway graft include matatu operators being okay with the situation and instances where even passengers collude with the operators to ‘take care’ of the officers.
Common causes of accidents, according to traffic police records
Speeding: Anything above 80km/h is risky.
Obstruction: Carts on the road, careless stopping by motorists, animals crossing or using the road as a resting ground, bulldozers and poorly parked earth movers.
Weather: Reduced visual ability due to fog or mist (think the Limuru stretch), flooding, wet and slippery roads.
Condition of the vehicle: Defective vehicles such as those with brake problems, malfunctioning wipers, worn out tires, poor lighting systems, tampered peed governors, defective engines and poor synchronisation of the steering assembly.
Incompetent drivers: Medically and mentally unfit drivers. Poor sight, fatigue, inexperience, lack of concentration on the road, poor understanding of the Highway Code.
Road condition: Sloppy, narrow roads and bridges, potholes and poorly marked sections.
Overloading: This leads to exceeding of the capacity that the systems of the vehicle can handle. Pressure mostly goes to the braking system, while large weights may lead to uncontrollable downhill acceleration. On February 27 this year, a Wajir-bound 52-seater bus was grossly overloaded while travelling at night. At Tulimani area near Mwingi Town, the driver lost control of the bus after its brakes failed. The bus sped downhill at amazing speed before veering off the road and crashing into a ditch (below). Twenty-six people died on the spot, eight others in hospital.
Qualities of a good driver
- Should be fully aware of the Highway Code.
- Should be able to reason and not easily distracted.
- By law, drivers should only work for a maximum of eight hours then rest for an equal amount of time before being allowed to get back behind the wheel.
- Should not be overworked, stressed or depressed.
- Should not be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol as these affect both physical and mental capability.
- Should avoid driving when on treatment drugs.
- Should feed on light meals when on the road, especially long-distance drivers who work during the day.
Beyond the wrecks
According to the 2009 Global Status Report on road safety by the World Health Organisation, which gathered data from 178 countries, including Kenya:
- 1.2 million people die in road accidents annually.
- 20 to 50 million others get injured annually
- Over 90 per cent of the deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries
WHO predicts that road traffic injuries will rise to be the fifth leading cause of death by 2030, above diabetes, HIV/Aids and heart disease.
WHO says road traffic injuries are one of the top three causes of death for people aged between five and 44 years globally.
The medical strain
Accidents lead to strains on health care services, including pressure on bed occupancy, doctors and financial and medical resources.
In Kenya, traffic injury patients represent between 45 per cent and 60 per cent of all admissions to surgical wards. A serious-accident victim will need, on average, a transfusion of 50 pints or more of red blood cells.
What you can do
- Wear motorcycle helmets and reflectors when riding one.
- Observe speed limit laws.
- Strap yourself with a seatbelt when travelling, even for short distances.
- Follow child restraint laws
- Above all, be responsible on the road.
Pedestrians dying by their thousands, no one notices
Pedestrians are involved in a lot of fatal accidents but are rarely the target of advocacy groups and police supervision. Statistics, however, show that this is the one group that should hog all the attention: Out of the 3,141 people who died in road accidents last year, over 1,500 were pedestrians, meaning about half of all road accidents involve pedestrians. On average, three pedestrians die daily on our roads, and on some particularly bad days that figure can go as high as 10.
Since its launch to the end of last year, 92 pedestrians died along Thika Highway. Between January 1 and April 18 this year, 23 people died on the stretch between the Globe flyover in Nairobi and Thika Town. Sixteen of them were pedestrians.
Ignorance is no bliss
Pedestrians are more likely to die on Kenyan roads because most of them are painfully ignorant about traffic rules. They believe it is the responsibility of the driver and other road users not to knock them down, even when there is a real danger of an accident. They don’t observe traffic lights, carelessly cross roads while texting or talking on the phone, and in some instances let children linger too long on the road.
When you are likely to die
After perusing through records at Traffic Headquarters, we noticed a pattern of how road accidents occur in the country. There are bad hours of the day, bad days of the week, bad weeks of the month, bad months of the year, and bad roads of the network. Here they are:
Months of the year
Worst months: December to mid-January
Bad months: April-May; August-September
These are mostly rainy months that also have increased road activity as chools close at the same time, causing a holiday rush. There is, thus, high human and motor mobility.
Days of the week