Many are asking if the ongoing road safety crack-down will indeed turn out to be just another knee-jack over-reaction by the enforcement authorities which predictably occurs after major PSV accidents. I have reasons to believe that opportunities exist to significantly improve road safety from the ongoing heightened enforcement.
Kenya has over the past five years successfully developed robust legal/regulatory systems and institutional capacity to address road safety. This is indeed a critical starting point from which to stage a comprehensive national road safety programme which ties together all the loose ends, which I will try to address in this article.
We need a holistic road safety implementation strategy that commits various players to effectively play their roles to reduce road accidents. This strategy can only be part of a wider national public transportation policy and strategy which should spell out how public transportation (both urban and long distance) is established and controlled to assure sufficient capacity, safety, service, and time schedules.
Road safety sustainability can only be achieved if and when we win the minds and souls of all road users and stakeholders to embrace road safety as a routine habit and culture. This can be achieved through road safety awareness and education campaigns that prompt all road users to always focus and think avoidance and prevention of accidents.
A sustained road safety campaign should educate the travelling and driving public on the road safety basics which they are not always conscious of due to ignorance, bad habits, impunity, or reckless risk-taking. Road safety culture change is indeed as important as enforcement.
Specifically, a significant cause of road accidents is “unfitness” to drive, an area which is very difficult to enforce. The only aspect of driver unfitness we are able to legally detect and enforce is alcohol use. No police road-block action will detect a driver who is sleepy on the wheel, or drivers who are significantly fatigued for safe driving.
Nor will the police easily detect those drivers who are under the influence of drugs (legal and illegal) or medication which make it unsafe to drive. A well structured public education and awareness programmes will capture these and other aspects of fitness to drive.
Another hurdle which will always impede road safety success is corruption among the traffic law enforcers. Unless opportunities for giving and taking bribes are significantly reduced, it will be an uphill task to reduce road incidents. Systems and processes to settle penalties must be made sufficiently convenient and transparent for genuine traffic offenders to pay fines or attend courts. Honest and positive enforcement without bribes is a critical missing link in achievement of sustainable road safety performance.
Analysis of road accidents data indicates that in addition to PSV, the pedestrians and motor bikes segments are quite vulnerable. Specifically for pedestrians, the transport and infrastructure ministry will need to take full responsibility for ensuring pedestrian safety by providing adequate and safe walkways and road crossings which should be a regulatory requirement in any public road design. Sufficient budgetary provisions should, without fail, be made for pedestrian safety.
The motorbike sub-sector has become and will remain an indispensible mode of transportation for this country. We have however allowed an unregulated expansion of this segment, with the players operating with impunity and virtually independent of formal traffic rules. The “boda boda” riders practice their own “jungle” justice system which can be brutal to those who are unfortunate enough to encounter them in accidents. Reigning in this group will be a major step towards sustainable road safety.
To bring down the national annual road fatalities from the stubborn 3,000 statistic, we need to combine safety awareness and education with effective enforcement to achieve safety improvements. The ongoing traffic crackdown provides an opportunity to immediately launch a wider road safety program that encompasses all the elements that will make improvements sustainable.
There is a lot we can learn on sustainable road safety improvements from Rwanda which is a best practice road safety comparator in the region.