Holiday travel safety: Don’t drop your guard just yet

As the festive season sets in, the allure of celebrating Christmas and ushering in the New Year prompts a wave of travel across Kenya. Families and friends embark on journeys to reunite and revel in the joyous festivities that mark the end of the year.

However, amidst the excitement, it’s crucial to underscore the need for heightened vigilance, particularly in the realm of road safety. In a country where road accidents claim roughly 4,000 lives annually, the holiday season is a critical time that demands increased awareness and caution on the roads.

My recent experience on the road reveals that we continue to grapple with old habits, making us vulnerable to road accidents. I am so accustomed to using Ena Coach, Guardian, or Easy Coach that when I urgently needed to travel to Nairobi from the countryside and found no available seats for booking, forcing me to use another bus, I nearly panicked due to the anxiety the journey gave me.

The journey started with me “flying” to the bus stop on a boda boda because I was running late, and my brother was sure the buses kept time. Since I had booked (money not refundable) in advance to guarantee myself a seat, I had no choice but to keep time.

Violation of the law

To my utter shock, however, the bus showed up two hours late! But that was nothing compared to the fact that the bus was fully occupied by the time I was able to squeeze my way through the crowd that showed up when the bus arrived. What is the point of booking?

Fortunately, I was not alone in this predicament. Having experienced such a scenario before the conductors asked travelers who did not have a bus ticket to vacate the seats. I felt guilty as I replaced an elderly woman from “her seat.” But it was either her or me.

After the “VIPs” who had booked were seated, some eager passengers, determined to travel, opted to sit on the bus floor—an evident violation of the law. Despite the risk, conductors couldn’t resist the extra cash, given the prevailing tough economic conditions in the country. As we journeyed to Nairobi, the speeding bus continued to pick up more and more passengers.

I was particularly enraged to see a woman with two kids, a toddler and the other barely four, board the bus fully aware that there were no seats available. They stood for about an hour or so before they could get a chance to sit. I fail to understand why someone would subject themselves to such an unsafe environment, especially during night travel. I know that desperate times might necessitate desperate measures, but how much is too much?

Read also: Matatu code for drivers this holiday season

Passengers on bus floor

The conductor feigned innocence, pretending to question why the passengers were boarding a full bus. He argued that the problem lay with the passengers because they could easily choose not to be an extra. That hit me hard.

The older generation in Kenya grew up with such trips making part of the highlights of their childhood. The speed was not an issue because you arrived faster, especially if you were the passenger on the floor. It was considered normal and somehow okay. Did I tell you that one pays less?

The correlation between overloading and over-speeding becomes apparent when analyzing accident data in Kenya. Accidents involving overloaded vehicles often coincide with instances of over-speeding, creating a lethal combination that amplifies the severity of collisions.

The compromised braking, reduced stability, and limited maneuverability due to overloading are exacerbated when combined with the higher kinetic energy associated with over-speeding.

Latest update from the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) reveals a significant yet modest improvement in road safety in Kenya. From January to October 2023, 3,609 lives were lost in road accidents, marking an 8.31 percent reduction compared to the same period in the previous year, which recorded 3,936 fatalities.

Despite the decrease, Kenya continues to grapple with a considerable number of road-related casualties, a trend that worsens during the festive season quite often.

Road safety challenges

Breaking down the figures by month, the NTSA’s October Road Safety status report highlights the fluctuating patterns in fatalities. January began with 379 recorded deaths, followed by February with 340, March at 389, April with 357, and May totaling 340.

June witnessed a spike with 439 fatalities, while July, August, September, and October reported 325, 327, 338, and 330 cases, respectively. These statistics offer a detailed insight into the ongoing road safety challenges faced by the country.

Comparing these figures to the 2022 grim toll, where 4,690 lives were lost on Kenyan roads, the slight decrease in fatalities this year indicates both progress and the persistent need for comprehensive strategies and interventions to enhance road safety measures nationwide.

NTSA data shared in October sheds light on the alarming safety concerns associated with specific roads in Kenya. Topping the list as potentially the most dangerous road was the Thika superhighway, stretching 50 kilometers and recording a staggering 155 fatalities across Nairobi and Kiambu counties.

Following closely was the Nairobi-Naivasha highway, which reported 95 deaths during the same period. These findings highlight the urgent need for targeted measures to address safety issues on these high-risk routes.

Fatalities on roads

Among the roads flagged for their high accident rates, the Outering road and Mombasa-Nairobi highway both recorded 54 fatalities each. Additionally, the Nakuru-Eldoret highway documented 50 deaths, emphasizing the pressing need for enhanced safety measures and infrastructure improvements on these key transport corridors.

The Eastern Bypass, Nairobi-Nakuru highway, and Matuu-Thika road also registered substantial accident figures, underscoring the nationwide challenge of ensuring road safety and the imperative to address specific concerns on these identified routes.

In total, Nairobi, Nakuru, Machakos, and Kiambu counties jointly contributed to 36 per cent of the total fatalities among the 47 counties. Notably, Nairobi county stood out with the highest share, representing 11.8 per cent of fatal crashes nationwide, according to the NTSA.

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