Tuesday January 5 2016

The joke that is NTSA Road Safety

By BANKELELE
More by this Author

One of the recent celebration points by the government has been the reduction by half of cargo transit times between Mombasa and Kampala.

This has been due to having coordinating and improving efficiency at the port and border points, as well as removal of highway roadblocks that used to delay trucks, among others measures.

But on the converse side, driving has become a nightmare for ordinary motorists mainly as drive times have doubled. A drive from Nairobi to Mombasa, which used to take six hours, now takes 12 hours, and that assumes there are no all night delays on the highway such as sometimes happens at Machakos or Mariakani.

Also, Nairobi to Eldoret, which used to take four hours, is now an eight-hour journey. Most of the delays are due to the exponential increase in car and truck volumes as more people and goods transit across Kenya.

Kenya loses at least 3,000 productive people to road deaths annually, and so the government set out to address this through measures such as alcohol detection devices and speed cameras on the highway.

HAPHAZARD SPEED CHANGES

But since pedestrians also suffer many deaths, pedestrian footbridges, zebra crossings, bumps and speed zones have also been introduced. And this is where some of the problem is.

On the 150-kilometre highway between Nairobi and Nakuru there are about five 50-kph speed zones. And on the 150-kilometre highway between Nakuru and Eldoret it gets interesting.

There are about 15 zones that mandate 50 kph, and there are also about 130 speed bumps on that highway. Yes there’s an average of one bump for every kilometre.

The focus on reducing speed is good, but the greater danger is not high speed, but haphazard changes in speed on the highway. The movement of cars is like water flowing through a pipe, and on highways in the developed world, large numbers of cars flow at 100 kilometres an hour or more because everyone does the same speed ranges.

START-STOP BEHAVIOUR

But traffic on Kenya highways flows like a musical accordion that compresses traffic to a stop then releases it to speed on to the next friction point. Handcarts, bumps, and pedestrians running across the highway disrupt the smooth flow of traffic on our highways.

There are also police roadblocks, speeds traps, matatus doing U-turns’ on the highway, and overloaded vegetable trucks that can’t drive faster than 20 kph.

These result in other cars with different speeds all having to brake sharply then trying to pass each other. These include drivers who have no or little overtaking experience, or who try and overtake without a plan or any calculation for their safety.

And when some slow down in a 50-kph zone, they get overtaken by matatus that seem immune to the speed limit.

The focus on speed is flawed. Authorities need to tackle the licensing of cars and motorists, and the situations that cause frequent start-stop behaviour.

DRIVING SCHOOL CURRICULUM

These include looking at the driving school curriculum, noting the reports of bad driving reported on websites like ma3route, cracking down on unroadworthy vehicles, and educating pedestrians and passengers about road safety.

But most important is to work with planners in towns and counties about controlling developments so you don’t have new houses, kiosks, churches, bumps, hawkers, schools and malls next to new highways.

Probably about 90 per cent of the people who drive past Naivasha are not interested in going into the town; Naivasha was a perfect highway town where one would exit the highway to access the town. But now the town has expanded onto the highway with businesses, schools and hotels, all requiring that the highway become a long 50-kph zone.

This is a wrong move, and in a few years, Naivasha may unfortunately become like Eldoret or Nairobi, which take an hour at minimum to drive through, even on the highway.

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