Road accidents: Motorists are authors of their own tragedies
- According to the National Transport and Safety Authority’s statistics, an average 3,000 lives are lost in road accidents every year.
- Too many Kenyans needlessly die on the road, and arresting bus owners or suspending saccos does not seem to stop it.
Traffic accidents that result in the death of tens of passengers always leave observers and commentators numbed especially when they realise that, but for the grace of God, they may as well have been the casualties.
In any case, there is precious little new to be said about the main causes of accidents and the steps that need to be taken to restore sanity on our roads.
It’s all been said before. However, two things should not be ignored here.
First, on the whole, traffic accidents are caused by motorists themselves; they rarely happen through an act of God.
Any vehicle is as good as the condition in which it is kept and the way it is driven.
Secondly, the Grim Reaper seems to have a special affinity for Kenyan lives otherwise our dear land would not be among the most dangerous countries to drive on in Africa.
Is that distinction a child of sheer bad luck or is it due to official complacency?
According to the National Transport and Safety Authority’s statistics, an average 3,000 lives are lost in road accidents every year.
Of course the figure must be considerably higher, for the NTSA is hardly likely to advertise its failure in fulfilling its core mandate — saving motorists, passengers and pedestrians from themselves.
However, the knee-jerk shifting of blame to that Authority whenever deadly accidents occur is rather simplistic. We motorists simply can’t ignore our own contribution to road carnage.
On the other hand, another set of statistics generated by the World Health Organisation seems to be on the higher side.
It is difficult to believe that this country loses 12,000 lives to accidents every year, despite the plausible explanation that many more victims die from their injuries months and even years after a particular accident.
Nevertheless, the point is made. Too many Kenyans needlessly die on the road, and arresting bus owners or suspending saccos does not seem to stop it.
And why is that? Either we are some of the worst drivers in the world, or the people responsible for ensuring safe driving — traffic police officers — are so hopelessly compromised they have become completely clueless about what they are supposed to do: implement traffic laws and see that offenders are punished.
A comparative study of how other countries get it right is strongly indicated. Maybe a benchmarking trip abroad by NTSA honchos and traffic police bosses could tilt the scale. Certainly, our traffic laws are robust enough to save many Kenyans from this senseless slaughter.
Yes, many traffic police officers are corrupt, but we motorists can’t escape blame. Take the case of the 58 lives lost during Wednesday’s bus accident in Kericho.
The facts emerging are that a 72-year-old driver failed to control a vehicle which was overloaded with passengers after a long drive at night.
It is said he was two hours away from the culmination of an 800-kilometre round journey during which he was not relieved, a clear flouting of the law.
Also, if the bus was stopped at any police road check, nobody asked why it was carrying more passengers than the number prescribed by law.
The main causes of road accidents are no stranger to most drivers, but just in case a reminder is necessary, here is an anecdote from personal experience.
Four months ago on Kenyatta Road in Gatundu, I was about to drive into a homestead and had clearly indicated so about 20 metres from the entrance and slowed down to 10kph, when a sudden bang on the driver’s side told me that I had been in mortal danger.
A small car came hurtling past me, struck a shoulder, and was luckily halted and upended by a boulder.
The youthful driver had not seen my signal because he was driving too fast, trying to overtake.
If that car had rolled, few of his passengers would have survived, but as it happened, the injuries were relatively minor.
That is when it struck me that we motorists are the authors of our own tragedies, for we seem to believe that traffic laws and regulations are meant for everyone else but ourselves.
Can we really blame the police or the NTSA for that sort of recklessness?
No. The main causes of accidents involve careless driving, speeding, driving under the influence, overloading, overtaking at blind corners, discourtesy towards other motorists, distractions caused by use of mobile phones, and generally ignoring traffic rules.
And here I am not even talking about matatu drivers or boda boda riders, chaps who seem to obey only their own rules.
On another note, it appears that the poor will always bear the brunt of everything that goes wrong.
It has emerged that vehicles belonging to the Western Crossroads Express Sacco are very popular with travellers because for a trip from Nairobi to Kakamega, they charge only Sh500, while other transporters charge double the amount.
Can anyone blame the poor fellows for preferring these vehicles? Poverty should not really amount to a death sentence, but it does — much too frequently.
Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor ([email protected]).