Having been established in October, 2012 by an Act of Parliament, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) should ideally be celebrating its fifth birthday with tangible successes, not only in form of statistics showing a significant drop in road accidents but also in positive public perception about its role.
Unfortunately, NTSA’s half a decade in office is being marked with a grim high incidence of horror traffic carnage that has left the country reeling in shock. Besides the more than 3,000 lives that continue to be lost on the roads year in year out, at least 80 people have just died in the space of a few days in accidents in various parts of the country.
While the agency is often seen to play up statistics to prove it is delivering, the kind of fatal accidents that have taken place in the past fortnight or so negate any attempts to paint a rosy picture using data.
The reality is that Kenyans are dying in droves on the roads. Hundreds of families are grieving; breadwinners are being lost; great costs in hospital bills and funerals are being incurred. It has become scary on the highways.
Yet, the reason NTSA was established was to change all that; to reclaim our roads from the veritable bloodbath that they have become and turn them into arteries of economic lifeblood that they ought to be.
That Kenya remains up there with some of the worst in traffic deaths statistics like Nigeria, is a huge indictment to NTSA’s performance.
But the agency is just one arm of an hydra-headed monster that has been feeding on the blood of Kenyans. The National Police Service, particularly its graft-ridden Traffic Department, is even more guilty.
Even before the police vetting exercise exposed the weaknesses at the department, it was an open secret that police checks on our roads are more of toll stations for extorting bribes than inspection for road-worthiness.
The tendency for the police to use traffic offences – real or trumped-up – as an opportunity to line their pockets, finds a willing ally in general indiscipline, rank disregard of the law and a fatalist attitude among road users, both motorists and pedestrians.
Statistics indicate that 85 per cent of road accidents in Kenya are the result of human error. It is about deliberate neglect or ignorance of traffic rules. It is about a propensity for cutting corners – even literally – by road users, a behaviour which is manifest in many other aspects of Kenyan culture.
As a country, we cannot wring our hands in agony as the carnage continues. As we enter the festive season, which is usually marked by a spike in traffic deaths, the situation rings an eerie note for travellers and Kenyans in general.
But something must be done to save lives, not just in the Christmas season but also in future. It is high time the institutions that have been given the mandate to make sure our roads are safe made a choice between delivering or throwing in the towel.
NTSA, the police and other relevant agencies must give value for money or give way to people who can do the job. The 85 per cent of accidents caused by human error are largely because someone is ignoring the law, is not enforcing rules or is taking a bribe to look the other way. These are not accidents; they are deaths caused by sins of omission or commission. They are must stop.