In the last two weeks, there has been horrendous carnage on our roads that has shocked even accident hardened Kenyans. In March, eight people were killed and 14 injured when a matatu and a truck collided along the Meru-Embu highway.
Two months later, a drunk truck driver smashed into a car killing four members of one family along the Eastern bypass in Nairobi. Last month, seven people, mostly university students, died when their car collided with another and was then crashed by a lorry they were overtaking.
In the same month, another seven people, including four members of one family, died when the driver of a truck lost control and crashed into seven vehicles at Ndenderu along Limuru road.
These are just the headlines. There have been many more “small” accidents that have resulted in deaths of smaller numbers of people. The shocking statistic is that in the first three months of this year, road deaths rose by 45 per cent over the same period last year. Where is the country headed?
It is now clear that the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has neither the will nor motivation to stop the carnage on our roads. They have become spectators. Indeed, getting onto Kenyan roads today has become a game of chance. The biggest culprits remain matatus and trucks.
They are closely followed by boda bodas. The boda boda menace is now a full-blown crisis. NTSA unfortunately long abandoned any pretext at enforcement of traffic rules. Many trucks and matatus on our roads are clearly not roadworthy. Yet they continue to cruise our roads every day as NTSA officials blithely watch from the sidelines whistling.
The number of matatus that are complete contraptions are too many. In some routes in Nairobi like Eastleigh, Gikomba and Baba Ndogo, the metal contraptions that masquerade as public service vehicles are veritable death traps. Yet NTSA continues to allow them to ply their trade. Speed governors are a big joke.
Matatus do not bother anymore. They overtake you effortlessly as you cruise at 100kph. They know no one is concerned. If NTSA could be bothered, they should forget all the high falutin ideals they keep espousing about what they want to achieve, and just try to undertake four basic enforcement measures.
First, enforce the installation and utilisation of speed governors. This is one of the single most important enforcement measures that can bear results very quickly. Secondly, put out of business all matatus and trucks that are unroadworthy. NTSA knows the routes they ply.
For matatus, NTSA just needs to map their routes countrywide, cancel their licenses and confiscate their number plates. For trucks, the NTSA just needs to raid all sites where they park as they await customers and subject all trucks that look unroadworthy to inspection.
Those that are clearly unserviceable should be decommissioned and their number plates and TLBs confiscated. Third, institute an elaborate regime for policing boda bodas. NTSA loudly proclaims that only 20 per cent of these riders are competent. So what have they done about it?
Why are killer-riders on Kenyan roads? Who is licensing them to carry passengers? Among the measures that need to be instituted immediately is random alcohol checks on boda boda riders during the day.
The way they ride gives one the distinct impression that they are under the influence. Further, NTSA must create a database of licensed boda boda riders. That way, the process of weeding out the rotten apples will be accomplished. Fourth, NTSA needs to introduce the long delayed cashless payment systems in public transport.
There will never be a time when everything will be perfect for this to start. Without cash at hand, public transport loses all its capacity to escape sanctions for breaches of traffic rules.
It will be a complete game changer as traffic police and NTSA officials will now be forced to properly enforce traffic rules, not pick out breaches as a bargaining tool for bribes as is the case today. Finally, NTSA must get out of its ivory tower and onto the roads. That is where their work is.
Visibility and mobility must be their hallmark. Permanent enforcement must be their mantra, not the current reactionary response as happened after the Kisii accident, after which they slump back into deep slumber. However, since it looks like the current officials at NTSA have become very tired of this onerous task, it is clear they are not the people to undertake the necessary drastic measures to stop road carnage. The Minister of Transport and Infrastructure must replace them immediately with a new team. Gathu Kaara can be reached at [email protected]