By Stephen Christian Kaheru
Governance underpins our collective responsibility to make roads safer
A few months ago, Citizen TV of Kenya reported that over 100 pedestrians had been arrested in Nairobi’s industrial area and arraigned in court for failing to use foot bridges. Although this confounded road users in Kenya, Police maintained that pedestrian bridges were deliberately constructed at historical black spots. For Kenya, which is beginning to reap from an African Development Bank financed USD$25 billion (Approx. Shs650 trillion) infrastructure plan, legal enforcement is imperative to enable Kenyans live in harmony with roads.
Kenya’s neighbour, Uganda, enjoys a glowing profile of ruinous road behaviour. In 2013, 688 children aged 10 and below lost their lives in road accidents while the 18-24 age bracket was deprived of 377 souls in addition to claiming a staggering 886 Ugandans aged 24-34. At the national referral hospital, Mulago, the designated casualty ward has over time earned itself the name, Bajaj Ward (after the Indian motorcycle brand) because it is teeming with boda boda casualties.
Our conduct on roads evokes a string of unsettling questions. Who regulates boda boda which so brazenly flout traffic regulations? What became of the seatbelt and speed governor requirement? Who determines the location and dimensions of speed calming features on roads including speed humps and rumble strips? Who should prevail over residents who introduce private accesses to highways? What safeguards exist for non-motorised traffic including the physically challenged and school children? Who is responsible for road signage? How much funding is allocated for road safety?
About a decade ago, Rwanda was in the global limelight again as a country with an unrivalled road safety record in the world, with a road accident happening every 2.5 hours. Following a damning World Bank report, Rwanda overhauled its legal framework for road conduct. After 2001, citizens woke up to mandatory use of seatbelts, speed limits, road worthiness inspections, blood-alcohol checks. This was reinforced by a law instituting a stinging fine of 20% of civil servants’ monthly pay for not buckling up. Stern enforcement of these legal stipulations saw the death rate drop by 30%. Rwanda further introduced a national speed limit of 60km per hour, making it 20km an hour lower than in neighbouring East African countries.
In Kenya, the notorious matatu transport sector only embraced sanity following the Legal Notice 161 of 2003. The full dose of provisions which took effect February 1, 2004 included fitting speed governors, using seat belts for public and private vehicles, re-testing drivers and inspecting vehicles after every 2 years, among others.
The first six months of implementation saw accidents reduce by about 73%. The government has now moved to confront the frailties of boda boda transport, which by July 8 had claimed 231 Kenyans compared to 189 in 2013.
Accordingly, Kenya’s National Transport and Safety Authority has proposed laws to tame boda boda, which are now leading death traps despite a significant decline in passenger vehicle fatalities. The rules, among others, lay responsibility on motorcycle owners and passengers, require use of protective gear for riders and passengers and make it mandatory for passengers to sit astride. A fresh driving school curriculum is also in the offing as government steps up effort to complement law with nurturing a new culture among Kenyan drivers.
Sweden and Netherlands, which are considered highly motorised economies, have also been rated leading lights when it comes to road safety. Sweden, in the 1990’s, embraced “Vision Zero” as the country’s philosophy to overcoming road-related trauma while the Dutch adopted “Sustainable Safety.” Whereas these approaches differ in thrust, they both lay considerable accountability with designers and operators.
Road transport, as with other traffic, brings into play, forces of nature on which physics has a bearing. Consequently, the responsibility for safety is shared.
In deciding an efficient design, Uganda’s road designers at Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) just like their counterparts at Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) or Tanzania National Roads Agency (Tanroads) count on the compliance of users to assure safety.
Conversely, motorists and pedestrians have the inherently secure designs to hinge on for their protection as they navigate these countries’ roads. At the heart of the continual interplay of these two facets of accountability lies the indispensable keystone of governance. In East Africa where governments are aggressively investing in infrastructure, a robust and abrasively enforced legal architecture should form the spine for sustaining safety on our roads.
Stephen Kaheru comments on national and regional development issues. [email protected]