Motorcycles remain a popular means of transport and an income earner but are fast gaining notoriety as a fatal attraction.
The latest statistics show the low-cost motorcycles now kill more people than vehicles with 1,421 riders and pillion passengers dying in 2019 compared to 1,049 drivers and passengers who lost their lives from motor vehicle-related deaths.
Kenya ushered in higher motorcycle imports in 2008 when it zero-rated import duty to create jobs for the rising youthful population which witnessed 51,412 motorcycles registered up from the previous year’s 16,293.
A survey showed that some boda boda riders in Nairobi could make up to Sh2,000 to Sh3,000 a day while those leasing out the motorbikes demand a minimum Sh300 per unit.
The tidy earnings are irresistible to many unemployed youths — most of whom learn on-the-job. This has opened the unrecognised sector to a myriad of challenges from reckless road behaviour that is now blamed for rising medical costs on the treatment of motorcycle accident victims.
Major hospitals have since set up trauma centres to accommodate the rising number of seriously injured riders and pillion passengers further denting Kenya’s health budget.
The boda boda business gained momentum fast with sales rising from Sh8 billion in 2014 to Sh11.3 billion in 2018 where 21 assembly plants were set up in major towns to accommodate the new demand for the motorised two-wheelers.
While everyone is happy with the 700,000 jobs for boda boda operators and nearly 200,000 motorcycle repair accessories’ shops as well as motorcycle repair jobs created, the fast-rising motorcycle-related deaths of riders and pillion passengers erode the gains made, so far.
Families are losing breadwinners with others incurring high medical bills for recuperating riders and pillion passengers who suffer injuries as a result of cycle-related accidents as most boda boda operators lack third party insurance.
Last year experienced a 41 percent surge where 348 pillion passenger deaths occurred compared to 247 while reported in 2018. Rider deaths rose by 22.7 percent to stand at 725 from 591 in 2018.
The year also saw 836 pillion passengers suffer serious injuries up 67.5 percent from 2018’s reported 499 with 1,391 riders sustaining serious injuries, being a 92.1 percent rise compared to 698 reported in 2018.
This could have informed the government’s bid to introduce mandatory third party insurance cover for boda boda operators to defray costs arising from motorcycle-related deaths but that remains in limbo after some people moved to court to contest the Treasury’s directive.
The third-party cover could have seen the exchequer attract new revenue while helping to defray compensation costs that are borne by motorcycle owners when they are found liable for accidents involving their motorcycles.
In their latest paper on motorcycle safety and security published by the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC), Vincent Odhiambo and Geoffrey Kiprop called for an overhaul of the boda boda subsector to have it formalised since it is a crucial revenue generator for families and an apt means of transport.
Banning boda bodas
“This study does not advocate banning of boda boda operations and other penal approaches of arresting and prosecuting operators as this is not sustainable in the long run for a developing economy like Kenya where bodas bodas are also making significant contributions to livelihoods and national development.
“There is a need for a government policy shift to officially recognise and designate boda boda motorcycles as part of the public service vehicles or public service motorcycles,” they said.
The two said the Transport Licensing Board should register all boda boda operators and allocate them the routes to ply as well as have all riders acquire third party insurance and seek training from riding schools.
“Mandatory registration, refresher training and testing will see Kenya establish a database of all boda boda operators as a basis for formalising the boda boda business,” they said.
In 2018, 204,000 motorcycles were registered up from 199,400 that were ushered onto Kenyan roads in 2017 and 2016’s newly licensed 145,900 motorcycles.
The NCRC report said police need to increase intelligence and surveillance on the subsector to identify crime patterns, trends and hot spots to weed out criminals.
“Buyers of new motorcycles should undertake statutory registration with Kenya Revenue Authority or National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) to help address the issue of unregistered motorcycles while TLB should have its mandate extended to include the registration of motorcycles as PSVs and designation of specific routes,” said the research.
Most underwriters offer boda boda operators a group ‘last expense’ cover where members pay agreed on monthly premiums in return for post-death benefits and a specified amount to meet funeral expenses.
While several underwriters have third party insurance policy products, uptake remains minimal as boda boda operators see it as an unnecessary cost.
At the same time, the NTSA and regional authorities have been enforcing the Motorcycle Regulations 2015 in an attempt to tame rogue cyclists.
The regulations prohibit riders from carrying more than one passenger on a motorcycle.
Furthermore, riders are required to have valid documentation, ensure that they and their passengers wear reflector jackets and helmets, and make sure that their headlights are on at all times.
The law also applies to owners of motorcycles who are required to, among other things, ensure that the riders working for them have documents such as licences, the motorcycles are roadworthy and are insured, and they have two helmets and two reflector jackets.
Dealers are also now required to issue two helmets and two reflector jackets for every motorcycle that they sell. The NTSA is mandated to revoke dealership licences of non-compliant vendors.