Roads, like bridges, have the power to unite humanity in numerous ways that stimulate economic and social progress. But roads could be killers.
It is estimated that upto 50 million people suffer disabilities from road traffic accidents. That’s more than the populations of Mali, Guinea and Rwanda combined. Sadly, 1.24 million die. About 85% of these deaths occur in developing countries and two thirds of those affected are pedestrians. For these grim reasons, the World health Organization (WHO) now ranks road traffic accidents at #9 cause of human death.
Back at home, the scenario is far more grimmer considering our current global ranking at #42. Our risk burden is 28 deaths per 100,000. Although this is a substantial decline from a previous 34 per 100,000, situational factors that will be outlined in this article, show it could get worse by the year 2020.
For specifics, Kenya still loses more than 3,000 souls annually to road accidents, 1,344 of them are pedestrians. Such pedestrians, who form one part of the vulnerable groups, consist of children, 25-34 year olds and the elderly. The loss of such a productive age has huge ramifications for society and economy. Example, the costs of treatment and the loss of productivity due to disability and injuries amounts to 5.6% of our GDP or about KShs. 300 B. That’s staggering compared to the iconic Thika Superhighway at a cost about KShs. 32 B.
Some studies by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) dug further to reveal place and time of greatest harm. For instance, 70% of pedestrians are hit at crossings. More people die on the roads between Fridays and Sundays with a peak on Saturdays. Precisely, more deaths were recorded from 5:00pm to 10:00pm, highest at 8:00pm.
Volume of traffic is an obvious influence with Nairobi County leading with about 668 fatalities per year which is more than sum of the next four counties. Mombasa-Nairobi highway claimed more victims than would the next five roads combined.
Deaths and injuries could further be stratified by age group, so that groups aged between 20- 39 years were disproportionately more at threat than any other group. In particular 25-34 year-olds were the most susceptible.
In terms of responsibility, personal cars claim about 40% of victims and matatus, also known as public service vehicles, another 35.5%. In short, about 75% of the damage could be attributed to motorist behavior. This is purely the work of the devil or is it?
- One perspective blames the incidences squarely on road design. Shoddy workmanship, blind corners, poor signage and drainage, or inadequate crossings could easily blur the judgment of motorists or pedestrians. Many roads lack spaces for pedestrians, cyclists and people with aided mobility. And recently we have seen major upgrades in bypasses, flyovers, tunnels; complex features for poorly trained drivers.
- There are arguments for adverse road use and I take it. Drunk motorists and pedestrians make a fine recipe for carnage. Overlapping, a thing we do when late, magically transforms a two-lane to four. Traders also encroach on sidewalks, some lanes have been converted into matatu termini or even worse, with poor waste management, huge chunks of our roads lay under garbage or sewage pools. If the road design does not allow, drying maize, herding, cycling or skating also count for adverse use.
- Well, there are natural causes including wildlife crossings, flash floods and the like, but their impacts remain too low to warrant structural change.
- Others such as defaced zebra-crossings, corrupted signage, overgrown vegetation, dilapidation are simply a matter of poor maintenance.
- Lastly, there is the bizarre one of police checks. Either due to guilt or impunity, I have seen drivers trying to sneak an overloaded matatu into the inner lanes to avoid police scrutiny. Some, suddenly speed off a different direction. A drunk driver once hopped off a moving matatu to escape arrest. Traffic officers had to outrun the car to save passengers and other motorists. Such near misses and reckless stunts often distract other road users into accidents.
Enforcement of traffic rules is necessary wow ingredient, but the road is no circus.