Kenyan motorists speeding to death on fake permits

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Seventeen people died in another road accident on Saturday evening on the Kakuma-Lodwar highway as investigations by the Nation revealed 80 per cent of public service vehicles (PSVs) were unroadworthy and fraudulently issued with inspection papers.

This was the fourth accident to kill more than 10 people this month, raising the toll to 43.

Police believe that most accidents are caused by speed. But the Nation has also discovered that many of the vehicles have fake inspection papers, meaning they could be unroadworthy.

Traffic Police Commandant Joseph ole Tito said analyses of the scene of most accidents show that the drivers were either speeding, had lost concentration or were under the influence of alcohol.

“Human error is the main cause of accidents, which of course can be prevented. The other cause is that some vehicles were not mechanically sound,” he said.

Corrupt officers have also been blamed for the accidents. They have been accused of failing to enforce the Traffic Act and soliciting bribes from errant drivers.

Mr Tito said they were reviewing the Traffic Act to make it more punitive to commit a traffic offence.

This would, among other measures, result in the use of the Alcoblow — the device used to test the amount of alcohol consumed by a motorist — to curb drink-driving.

Mr Tito said they were investing in more efficient ways of checking speeding, adding that some unscrupulous operators were colluding with drivers to withdraw their vehicles from the roads every time police mounted a crackdown on unroadworthy PSVs.

“Currently, over 85 per cent of public service vehicles are fitted with faulty speed governors. Vehicle owners withdraw from the roads whenever we mount a crackdown,” he said.

He said they were exploring fitting permanent decoders in engines to act as speed “black boxes” in PSVs.

“Once gazetted, the new devices would have better features. They would not constrain speed, but would record the levels attained over time.

“Drivers would be required to regularly present the devices to police to retrieve information and those who would have exceeded the 80km per hour limit would be charged.”

Speed cameras

A tender is also out for speed cameras as police seek to make roads safer.

“A pilot programme in which speed cameras are being used by police in Naivasha and Thika has shown a significant drop in road accidents there.

“We’ve already advertised the tender as we expect to extend it to all roads in the country,” Mr Tito said.

The speed cameras will be mounted on police patrol cars, erected on the roads and operated by officers at mobile roadblocks.

The tenders will be opened on October 24, and the cameras would be in operation early next year. Also in the pipeline is the introduction of instant fines for traffic offenders.

These are some of the proposals in the revised Traffic Act, which is pending at the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

“Also to be gazetted are companies that would be allowed to import and fit them (speed governors) in vehicles. At present there are 11 firms gazetted to supply speed governors, but anybody is allowed to fit them,” said Mr Tito.

On September 19, 13 people died and several others were injured when a bus they were travelling in crashed near Mutwangombe market, 15 kilometres from Mwingi town on the Thika-Garissa road.

On September 7, another 13 people died in two separate road accidents involving matatus and lorries. In the first case, eight people died when their matatu collided with a lorry at Kwa Muguna in Imenti South District. (READ: Matatus-lorries crashes kill 13)

Five others died on the Machakos-Nairobi road after a matatu rammed a stationary lorry.

Latest statistics show that 2,235 people have died in road accidents and 11,737 others injured between January 1 and September 15.

In the last two years, the annual accident death toll has averaged 3,500. Some 4,072 lives were lost in 2009, with the number falling to 3,055 the following year.

Mr Tito said that even though tough laws may deter drivers and vehicle owners from routinely breaking the rules, the public has a duty to help the authorities curb the crisis.

The commandant also revealed police findings on recent accidents. On August 20, a bus carrying 57 passengers plunged into Uwaani River in Mbooni, killing 23 people. Mr Tito said the driver, who also died, was drunk. (READ: 23 perish in road crash)

Besides, the bus was licensed to carry only 41 passengers. In the Imenti accident, Mr Tito said investigators established that the driver had ignored markings on the road.

“He was overtaking, disregarding the continuous yellow line on the tarmac. The marking is an indication it’s safe to overtake. All these recent accidents could have been avoided if the drivers observed the highway code,” the traffic chief said.

Matatu Welfare Association chairman Simon Kimutai said most vehicle owners were cutting shortcuts on inspection, partly due to the high fees.

Operators pay advance tax to the Kenya Revenue Authority before proceeding for the inspection. Each matatu pays Sh400 per seat as advance tax, which could rise to Sh20,000 per mini bus.

“We are the only business people who pay tax before we can use a service, this is unacceptable,” he said.

“Once a hurdle is created (advance tax) people look for a way of avoiding it (by not going for the inspection,’’ he said.

Body weight, type and capacity

During inspection, vehicles are checked for body weight, mechanical condition and capacity.

Transport Licensing Board chairman Hassan ole Kamwaro said less than 20 per cent of the vehicles on the road had been inspected.

He pointed out that some had tampered with speed governors or not fitted them at all.

“Vehicles don’t have these things (speed governors). Those that have them have a secret switch that disables them so they can move beyond the stipulated limit.”

According to the board, 89 in every 100 vehicles on the road are defective. Of these, 24 per cent have major defects.

“It is serious,” he said. Mr Kamwaro said the board was considering introducing satellite bases on major roads to help detect vehicles that were speeding.

Mr Kamwaro said nearly half of PSV drivers had fake licences. “They are incompetent,” he said, adding that 85 per cent of the accidents were caused by human error.

Mr Kamwaro also said most matatus did not have seat belts.

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