At the beginning of the festive season, I did write something urging those on the road to be cautious so as not to leave people in tears after fatal accidents. I want to believe that some took heed of my message and others employed common sense to avoid any tragic twists to the holiday.
Of course others didn’t and it has nothing to do with whether they read this column or not. Accidents continued to happen and pictures of the same made rounds on platforms like WhatsApp.
Then there was a nasty accident at the same black spot in Kenya that has claimed so many lives before. This time a bus went out of its lane and rammed head-on into a truck and 36 lives were lost. The public outrage was palatable. So many lives robbed in one go because of reckless driving. Kenyans online wondered why that deadly area cannot be turned into a dual carriage road to reduce the cases of head-on collisions.
Many times when things go wrong and those in charge are not sure of what to do, they resort to knee-jerk reactions. And so in this case Kenya’s National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) slapped a night travel ban on all passenger service vehicles. The fact that these fatal accidents had happened at night is what probably informed this decision. But imagine a plane crash at night resulting in the banning of planes from flying at night! Makes no sense, right?
The ban on night travel actually worsens the road safety situation. It came into operation at a time when so many Kenyans were starting to make the journey back to the city after days in the countryside. Then there are the students who were also trying to report to school. Imagine the chaos that emerges from reducing the time public transport is available at a time when so many commuters are on the road.
Footage of stranded students having to spend nights out in the cold at bus terminals and police stations were proof that this decision was ill advised. When you have enough statistics to show that a section of a highway is a black spot you should redesign the road probably turning the section into a double carriageway to avoid fatal head-on collisions. You then embark on understanding the psyche of the people behind the wheels of passenger vehicles and try to fix that.
In Uganda for example, buses on the Kampala – Katuna highway have to stop at check points where the drivers of the buses have to get out of the bus and sign in a book indicating the time they got to a certain point. This has gone a long way in curbing accidents on a road that was considered deadly especially the Kabale sections with their sharp turns and twists. This single move ensures that drivers are not fatigued by making so many trips in a day and that they do not rush to get to a destination.
Another move that made the roads safer was the opening of borders to allow for 24 hour operations. Before this, many bus drivers would speed so as to get to the border before it closes. With a night ban in Kenya, I can assure you that some will be doing the same to ensure that they get to certain destinations before the ban kicks in thus endangering the lives of passengers.
What we need on our roads more than anything, are traffic officers who really do their job instead of using it to extort bribes from those using the roads. Corruption in the traffic ranks is what allows rogue drivers and cars in dangerous mechanical condition to stay on our roads. Instead of proudly branding sections of roads as black spots, we should do all we can to make them safe spots regardless of whether one is driving during day time or at night.
Those wrongly blaming the heavy trucks on the road may be pleased to know that the cargo operations of the Standard Gauge Railway are up and running. On the first day, the train is said to have hauled 104 containers from Mombasa to Nairobi. Reduction of these heavy trucks on our roads will go a long way in making the roads safer. Not just in Kenya but the whole region since a lot of goods Mombasa port end up as far as Goma, Bukavu, Bujumbura, Kigali and Kampala. May this year be a year of better road safety measures.
Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.