One in every five people who die from road injuries in Kenya is aged below 20 years, a Nation Newsplex investigation reveals.
Children and teenagers constituted 21 per cent or 476 of the 2,228 people who died in road crashes from January to October 17 this year, according to data from the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).
The number of young people who were killed on the roads in the 10 months is equivalent to passengers carried by 14 33-seater matatus.
As the world commemorates the Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims tomorrow, Newsplex found that the number of under 20s who die from road traffic injuries has increased over the last three years.
In 2015, this age group suffered 382 deaths, which was 12 per cent of all deaths. The following year, the figures almost doubled to 583, which was 20 per cent of all deaths.
Ms Bright Oywaya, the executive director of the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), said the increased number of children dying or being injured in road crashes is partly due to the growth of the middle class, which has resulted in a higher number of vehicles.
She said more children go to schools that are far away from their homes, forcing them to use vehicles, while many more cross busy roads as they walk to schools.
“It is not uncommon to see a boda boda carrying up to seven pupils without helmets and reflective gear,” said Dr Duncan Kibogong, deputy director for Safety Strategies and County Committees of the NTSA.
He added that the increase in child deaths from injuries sustained in road crashes was in part due to the improved quality of data being captured by the authority over the last three years, including disaggregated data by different factors, such as age.
“Children are vulnerable to road traffic injuries because they are at different physical and development stages from adults,” said Mr Kibogong.
Children are short compared to adults, which makes it difficult for them to see their surroundings in traffic and for other road users to spot them easily. Also, because of their height, a vehicle is more likely to hit them on the chest and head, resulting in more grievous injuries, compared to adults who are more likely to be hit on the lower limbs.
“A child is top-heavy – the size of the child’s head relative to the rest of the body is greater than the ratio in adults. A child, therefore, has a higher centre of gravity than an adult, leading to a greater disposition to head injuries,” he said.
Children also have a less developed perception of depth, so they struggle to judge distance between themselves and other objects, particularly when both are in motion.
FEWER CARS AND ROADS
Small children struggle to understand the sizes and speeds of vehicles from the sound of the engine as they approach, what direction a sound is coming from and consequently what direction a car is coming from.
In addition, young children are active, energetic, and often impulsive and easily distracted, which may lead them to suddenly run into the road.
Speed and distance are difficult for a child to judge but are essential for crossing a road safely. “The concept of left and right as positions relative to the body develops slowly, and is only well established after the age of about seven, Kibogong told Newsplex.
According to him a majority of children who are injured on the roads are pedestrians.
Globally, more than 500 children every day die from road traffic injuries, with 90 per cent of the fatalities happening in low-and middle-income countries such as Kenya, even though they have fewer cars and roads than the high-income nations.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2015, road injuries were the leading cause of adolescent death among 10–19-year-olds, resulting in about 115,000 adolescent deaths, with older adolescent boys aged 15–19 years suffering the greatest burden.
Most of the children and teens killed in road crashes were pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
Overall, one in 40 deaths in Kenya is caused by road traffic injuries, based on the 2017 Economic Survey. According to the same publication, road crash deaths climbed from being the 10th leading cause of death in 2010 to the seventh in 2016.
But the numbers of the dead do not fully capture the loss road crashes cause, as many more people are severely injured. The injuries could be 10-fold given that most Kenyans ride motorcycles without helmets and protective gear and do not use car seat beats.
Moreover, road safety experts say the police and NTSA figures do not reflect the full scale of death and injury on the roads as many incidents go unreported.
Stephanie Aketch, the Regional Road Safety Project Manager at Handicap International, says many people who suffer severe road traffic injuries but die a few weeks after the crash are unlikely to be captured in road death statistics because of poor follow-up mechanisms.
HIGHEST RATES GLOBALLY
Kenya’s record is one of the highest traffic death rates in the world, according to WHO. With 29 deaths per 100,000 people on Kenyan roads, the country is ranked 15th worst in traffic death.
On the other hand, the five countries with the lowest traffic death rates per 100,000 people are the Principality of Monaco with 0, Micronesia with 1.9, Sweden with 2.8, Kiribati 2.9, and the United Kingdom with 2.9.
Therefore, a person living in Kenya is 29 times as likely to die from a road accident than a person living in Monaco, 15 times as likely to die than a person living in Micronesia and 10 times as likely to die than a person living in Sweden.
These three countries have the best road safety record in the world despite the fact that Sweden has 13 times as many vehicles per 1,000 people (601) as Kenya (45) while Micronesia has almost twice as many vehicles per 1,000 people as Kenya (81).
While Monaco and Micronesia have small land area and a smaller length of roads than Kenya, larger countries like the United Kingdom also have much lower accident rates. Better road safety in developed countries is attributed to rigorous evaluation of proposed transport infrastructure to ensure it meets safety standards for both pedestrians and drivers.
The public transport systems in these countries are also strictly monitored to catch and penalise traffic law breakers. In those countries there are drunk-driving, helmet, seat beat, reflective gear speed limit and child restraint laws.
“We tend to view road crashes as an act of God yet accidents are within the control of human capacity. When someone drinks and drives or drives at a speed of 220km/h then crashes, is that not predictable?” asks Kibogong. He says because of this attitude many people do not bother to even report traffic injuries.
He says many Kenyans believe that carrying their children on their lap is safer than restraining them on a seat. “If a car crashes at a speed of 80km/h, most people cannot hold on to anything weighing 1kg or more. It will fly off their hands,” he explains.
Aketch concurs that Kenyans have a cavalier attitude towards road safety. “We have situations where middle class parents buy baby car seats because they are trendy, not for safety reasons. As a result they often buy seats that are inappropriate for their child’s size and age and the seats are often not installed properly,” she says. When this happens the seats do not offer the intended protection to the child.
Ms Oywaya says that Kenyans, instead of being proactive, tend to react to events after they happen. This, she argues, is why there were no provisions in the Traffic Act addressing the safety of children on the roads. Many students get injured in road crashes if they do not die, severely disrupting their education and quality of life.
Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of disability in the world . In 2015, children under five in Kenya made 146,659 outpatient visits to health facilities due to road traffic injuries.
Nairobi accounted for 9 per cent or 13,624, the most of any county according to the 2016 Statistical Abstract, while people aged above five years made 1,017,536 visits.