The National Transport and Safety Authority was on the spot again on Sunday after 36 people perished in yet another dawn road accident at Migaa along the Nakuru–Eldoret highway.
The beleaguered state agency has been on the spot for making knee-jerk reactions every time a major accident is reported on Kenyan roads, and it didn’t disappoint, this time banning passenger bus night travel with immediate effect.
Thousands of travellers, majority of whom had travelled upcountry for holiday festivities, will be left stranded by this directive, and it could take a while before the chaos in the public transport sector die down.
Sunday's horror crash brought to nearly 200 the number of people killed on Kenyan roads in the month of December alone. More than 150 people died in road crashes within the first three weeks of the month, figures from the NTSA show, with nearly half of them perishing on the killer stretch between Nakuru and Sachang’wan.
And, to illustrate the danger on Kenyan roads this festive season, Sunday’s accident brought to at least 76 the number of people killed on this stretch in the last week of the month alone.
Senior police officers at the scene said the ill-fated bus, on the way to Nairobi from Busia, had worn out tyres and was driven recklessly as it hurtled down the dangerous stretch towards Nakuru.
These claims were corroborated by some of the passengers who survived the tragic accident. One of them told this newspaper that the bus had “wobbled” down the steep descent moments before the crash. It had been flagged down by traffic officers a few minutes earlier but waved on, another passenger said.
Among the dead were the driver of the truck and his loader, who were heading towards Eldoret. Thirty passengers from the bus were confirmed dead at the scene, while another four succumbed to injuries while receiving treatment at the Nakuru Level Five Hospital. Among the four were three children aged two months, two years and 10 years, and one adult aged 35.
Rift Valley traffic enforcement officer Zero Arome said the bus sped on the wrong lane of the road when it collided with the truck head-on. It was carrying 46 passengers at the time, he added.
The injured were rushed to Molo Sub-County Hospital and the Nakuru Level Five Hospital.
A few hours after the crash, NTSA director-general Francis Meja directed all passenger service vehicles to cease night travel with immediate effect, and to only be on the road, between 6am and 7pm.
“Over the recent past, our records indicate that majority of crashes occur during the night,” Mr Meja explained. “In order to review the effectiveness of current measures (and) to improve road safety, the authority, in consultation with other relevant government agencies, hereby suspends night travel.”
Earlier, on December 16, the agency had launched a major crackdown on rogue drivers along the Nairobi-Eldoret highway following the deaths of 17 people on the dangerous stretch. More than 30 vehicles were impounded after NTSA officials erected a road block at Gilgil, where they conducted random checks.
The agency’s deputy director and head of enforcement, Mr Harred Adan, told our team at Gilgil that this was part of Operation Safiri Salama, launched a few days earlier.
Before that, the agency had announced the erection of more speed bumps on the Sachang’wan stretch following a horror accident on the dawn of December 12. Infrastructure principal secretary John Mosonik said the bumps were a short-term measure before construction of a dual carriageway from Sobea to Kamara at a cost of Sh500 million.
He also said the government was considering opening up the diversion at Njoro junction to be used by the commercial trucks.
A few meters from the scene of the accident at Migaa on Sunday, police officers nabbed a 14-seater van packed with passengers almost double its legal capacity. The van, heading to Kakamega, had 25 passengers and two crew, including the driver.
The driver, however, ran away after the van, operating under Sunrise Sacco, was stopped by the police.
Reporting by Reitz Mureithi, Joseph Openda and Francis Mureithi.