Peace-loving online Kenyan, Religious, Vegetarian, Humanitarian, Blogger, Reader, Art Critic, Safety enthusiast, Photographer & Writer of human-interest stories. Addicted to technology. Follows K'Ogalo and is a fan of MUFC See what I'm up to at fndaga.wordpress.com
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“Reckless” seems to be the middle name of most Kenya road users.
We live in a country which largely depends on road transportation to move people and goods from one point to another, but how we behave on the road leaves a lot to be desired – literary. It is true that about 85% road crashes that occur on our roads can be traced back to human factors and that’s what needs to be addressed to achieve a significant reduction in the number, rate and severity of road crashes in our country. Note that I have deliberately avoided using the word “accident” because we are talking about crashes that can actually be prevented.
Globally, road safety initiatives rotate around what can be called the 3E Approach – Engineering; Education and Enforcement. I’ll talk briefly about each.
Engineering obviously deals with the design and construction of roads and facilities like bridges and any other thing that constitutes road infrastructure. Engineers determine the safest gradient, width and material to be used on each road so as to guarantee durability and safety of road users. They design the roads to make them co-exist harmoniously with other services running parallel or in the vicinity of the road network. A different branch of Engineering deals with the design and manufacture of motor vehicles that are ergonomically safe and suitable for use on public roads. This particular area has seen tremendous growth with lots of research on the use of safety belts, introduction of airbags, side-impact protection, anti-lock braking systems and many other developments that have made vehicles safer. Making good use of Engineering gives us good results – case in point? Sweden, the home of Volvo and Scania vehicles. Sweden has one of the lowest rates of deaths related to road crashes in the worlds, yet they have more vehicles on their roads than all the cars in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi put together.
Education here refers to Road Safety Education – the road-users’ understanding and application of basic road safety. Our roads are infested with people who lack courtesy and will deliberately block a junction because we don’t want other road users to go ahead of us – we don’t give way, period. We don’t know how to maneuver a round-about and the traffic cops must be there to shepherd us like sheep. We drive while yapping away on the phone, some even send text messages while driving, in utter disregard to the safety of other road users. Our PSV drivers also have cell phones and you will always find them on the phone, endangering the lives of their passengers. That phone call can surely wait. Pedestrians also use the roads like footpaths in the village, some walking haphazardly or stopping to catch up with lost acquaintances or exchange telephone contacts in the middle of the road. Consumption of alcohol and other toxicants by road users make the situation even worse. It is a fact that alcohol and drugs have the capacity to impair judgment and delay our reflex action. Drive around Nairobi on weekend nights and you will appreciate the danger posed by intoxicated road users. Education (or training if you like) aims at changing the attitude of road users and converting knowledge to action. Consistent and correct Road Safety Education is the panacea in tackling the 85% blame that is apportioned to human factors as the main cause of road crashes. Remember how HIV/Aids is being tackled head-on through a mass education/awareness campaign? Well, Road Safety needs a similar campaign. The media can play a big role here.
Last but certainly not the least is Enforcement – This is the job of Traffic Police Officers, but one John Michuki once took special interest in it and personally oversaw strict enforcement of traffic rules in 2004. The results were amazing, but things went back to the bad old days. With strict enforcement, all road users will find themselves following the traffic rules word for word. Installation of traffic cameras and imposing stiff penalties against offenders should be considered. Traffic police officers must enforce the rules without favour, fear or intimidation. Unfortunately corruption has eroded public trust in the police. With as little as 500 shillings, rather than arresting you, a traffic cop will happily wave you on, ignoring your bald tyres and conveniently forgetting that as “Utumishi kwa wote” his duty is to protect your life and property. With proper Road Safety education, long-distance truck drivers will also see their role in ensuring the safety of road users by safely driving and parking their trailers especially at night. They have been accused of failing to put warning triangles and hazard lights when their trucks break down in the middle of the road.
Road safety cannot be achieved by implementing only one or two the 3Es, neither can it be achieved by partly doing a little bit of all the 3, NO! They are like the 3 stones that support the cooking pot. The authorities therefore get it all wrong when they order massive crackdowns to arrest PSVs with music, or with more than one colour, instead of checking the mechanical soundness of a vehicle and its perceived safety. The old jalopies that are nothing but metal contraptions are actually death traps. When you look at road crash victims you will notice that most of their injuries are usually caused by the metal bars used in the fabrication of PSVs’ interiors. Many have very little cushioning. I’m not sure if KEBS has ever checked the material used to fabricate our buses. Why would a whole bus be reduced to a mere chassis upon impact?
Road safety is also about knowing the appropriate speed. Modern vehicles have been designed for both speed and comfort. A good driver should use his sense of judgment to determine the best speed that will not unnecessarily jeopardize the lives of other road users. However, racing on the roads is a big NO. Always drive at a speed that you can comfortably control your vehicle and safely stop it when necessary.
While the traffic police have a duty to remove un-roadworthy vehicles from our roads, the government has a duty to fix “un-vehicleworthy” roads too. We have seen road crashes caused when drivers swerve to avoid a pothole. We have also seen newly reconstructed roads with no markings at all, leaving drivers to create imaginary lanes on the road. Signage is almost none-existent except along the new Thika Road. These might look trivial but they have a big contribution towards road safety.
As a road user, ensure you observe all the basic rules like keeping left unless overtaking, belting up all the time, driving at safe speeds, giving way and general courtesy on the road. Riders and pedestrians also have a contribution, one of your duties is to See & Be Seen – ensure you have a clear view of the road and that other road users can see you from a safe distance. Use of helmets and reflective jackets is mandatory for riders. Passengers must always belt up too and avoid boarding overloaded vehicles. It’s safer and better to arrive late than not to arrive at all.
My safety begins with me. Your safety begins with you.