Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.6 called for a 50 per cent reduction in the number of global road traffic deaths by 2020. That didn’t happen. If anything, road traffic accidents in Kenya have increased in recent years. Between January 2015 to January 2020, road fatalities and injuries increased by 26 per cent and 46.5 per cent respectively.
In 2018, road accidents killed 3,004 Kenyans. Many among them died in the seven black spots along the Nairobi-Kisumu-Eldoret Highway. One year later in 2019, road accidents took the lives of 3,900 Kenyans. This year in 2020, 2,689 Kenyans have already lost their lives on our roads. Among them were 60 people who lost their lives the weekend after bars were recently reopened. Evidently, the free flow of alcohol that weekend resulted in fatal road accidents. This reminded me of my own drunk-driving days nearly three decades ago. I used to stagger into my Toyota Carib and drive it home. Like most drunk drivers, I had a misplaced albeit firm belief that the car knew its way home and it would get me there. Tragically, many drunk drivers in Kenya steer their cars into ditches, other cars, motorcycles and into pedestrians.
It therefore wasn’t surprising in 2019 when the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) attributed most road crashes in the country to bad road user behaviour that includes drink-driving, speeding and low levels of road safety awareness among road users. As such, behavioral change plays a critical role in reducing road carnage. Indeed, the Matatu Welfare Association has previously revealed that 85 per cent of road crashes in the country are a result of road users’ behaviour.
Time is ripe for us to change our behaviour on the roads. If we don’t do so, we shall continue paying dearly.
The World Health Organisation revealed in its 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety that more people now die as a result of road traffic injuries than from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or diarrheal diseases. More shocking, road traffic injuries are responsible for the death of children and young adults aged 5–29 years. This must stop. We can’t allow our youth to continue losing their lives on our roads.
Just as we drastically reduced HIV/AIDS in large part through behavioural change, we need to stop our behaviour from fueling avoidable road accidents. We should instead shepherd our behaviour into a bedrock of a responsible road culture. A culture where various moving chariots will stop smashing into each other and into hapless pedestrians. Such a responsible, safe road culture can only materialise through the efforts of every Kenyan. It is against this background that on Wednesday 28th October, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i launched the Safe Roads Programme dubbed “Usalama Barabarani.” As a stakeholder, I was privileged to witness the launch of this NTSA programme supported by the European Union. The programme endeavours to achieve a reduction in the number of fatalities and injuries of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and boda-bodas.
“Usalama Barabarani” exemplifies recent efforts by NTSA to make our roads safe again and curb the rampant road carnage. Central to these efforts is sustained public education and awareness on road safety.
Going by NTSA’s unmatched drive towards efficiency on safety training, licensing, registration processes and other operations over the last ten months, I have no doubt that this programme may succeed. For starters, NTSA has incredibly wiped out the rampant brokers who complicated life for Kenyans seeking various services from the organisation. It is such accomplishments that are drawing partners to NTSA like never before. Accordingly, they deserve our individual support.
Although we Kenyans are generally familiar with road safety measures, we are not necessarily driven to ensure responsible road behaviour by all.
Motorists should be their own alcoblows. They shouldn’t wait for a machine to scare them into sober driving. Truck drivers should ensure that they never obstruct or engage in the kind of irresponsible road behaviour that has turned many trucks into road time bombs. Motorbikes too, should strive to ride into road safety, not road carnage.
If we all embrace responsible road behaviour, black spots will cease being magnets of death and destruction. More importantly, responsible road behaviour will make our roads safe.
Road accidents are also draining our resources. Studies indicate that road traffic injuries drain a country’s GDP from between 1.3 per cent and 3.0 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Indeed, traffic accidents drain life, health and resources in profound ways. Behavioural change will be a definite antidote in tackling road accidents in a decisive, lasting manner. Think green, act green!