Most schools across the country re-open on Monday for the third term amid concerns over an increase in the number of accidents involving learning institutions’ vehicles.
Data by the National Transportation and Safety Authority (NTSA) shows a rise in traffic accidents involving pupils and students.
About 180 school-going children lost their lives to road accidents between January and August 18.
The accidents include those involving school transport (hired or institution-owned), those hit by vehicles and by boda boda.
An informal survey done between May and October last year through social media platform Ma3Route also revealed a sharp rise in the number of accidents involving school-going children and vehicles.
The project’s lead researcher Elizabeth Resor says that over the period, 64 crashes were reported, mostly in Nairobi.
“The numbers show that there is a need to focus on road safety for school children,” she said.
The number of accidents involving school vehicles or students being hit while commuting to or from school is steadily on the rise.
The most recent incident involved a school bus belonging to St Mary’s Nyamagwa Girls Secondary School in Kisii County on August 12.
What started as a celebratory ride in a new school bus ended in tears. The bus, which had just been delivered to the school, rolled with 78 students said to have been on board.
The crash occurred a few metres from the school at a sharp corner at Nyambunde on the Itumbe-Igore road. It left four students dead and several others nursing injuries.
A day before, two pupils from Victorian Academy in Meru County died and 50 others were injured after a hired bus overturned in Nairobi. The pupils were going to take part in the National Music Festival.
Pupils from Chuka/Igambang’ombe Primary School in Tharaka-Nithi County were lucky to escape unhurt after the bus ferrying them to the National Music Festival veered off the Meru-Embu road and landed in a ditch at the Ruguri bridge only two days before the accident involving the Nyamagwa Girls Secondary School bus. There were 35 pupils in the bus.
“There is a significant number of children who have been killed by speeding vehicles or bodaboda on the way to or from school,” said Dr Duncan Kibogong, the Deputy Director, Safety Strategies at NTSA.
He said the authority is concerned over the increasing number of accidents.
“Accidents are mostly caused by motorists speeding near schools. Most learning institutions also do not supervise or assist children to cross the roads in the morning or evening,” he said.
Data from NTSA shows children in the kindergarten and lower primary school age bracket are the most vulnerable to accidents.
MOST VULNERABLE GROUP
The statistics show that between January and August 18 this year, 73 children aged between five and nine died in road crashes across the country.
The second most vulnerable group are high school students where 63 of those aged between 15 and 19 lost their lives in the said period.
At least 44 primary school pupils aged between 10 and 14 were killed in accidents in the first six months of the year.
“Motorcycles also carry excess number of children passengers, sometime up to four and they do not wear helmets,” Dr Kibogong said.
He said children are most vulnerable on the roads because they are often too short to view surrounding traffic and are not easily spotted by motorists.
They are also sometimes not able to judge the distance between themselves and the vehicle, explaining the frequent times they are seen dashing to cross the road despite vehicles moving at high speed.
He said accidents involving school vehicles are mainly due to the condition of the vehicles and drivers, adding that vehicles used in school transport often do not have licences.
“They also tend to carry excess students during school events,” he said.
Drivers employed by the schools also contribute to crashes, he said.
While school children are vulnerable, other road users suffer in crashes involving school vehicles.
In most cases, the drivers are not familiar with the routes and areas they ferry the students to as venues of competitive events keep changing.
Also due to the distance to the venue or destination, the drivers tend to drive at night (after 9pm) and may also suffer from fatigue leading to errors that cause accidents.
Mr Shadrack Muasya, aged 27, has been admitted to hospital since May 28 this year after he was involved in a crash with a school bus near Athi River on the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway.
He suffered multiple injuries and has been in and out of Intensive Care Unit at the Aga Khan Hospital for over two-and-a-half months, accumulating a bill of Sh12.4 million.
Ms Stephanie Aketch, the Road Safety Project Manager at Handicap International, said reducing crashes involving school children is possible.
She said it is sad that children continue to die while there is legislation pending in Parliament, the Traffic Amendment Bill 2014.
She said it has been scientifically proven that reducing speed limits near schools significantly reduces the severity of injury suffered by children in case of a crash.
“In the Bill also contains a host of life-saving provisions including requiring school buses to be fitted with seat belts and also on the condition of the vehicles,” she said.
Dr Kibogong said ensuring safe transport for children, including roadworthy vehicles and trained drivers, is key to reducing accidents.
“There should also be infrastructure development that considers children and other vulnerable road users such as pedestrians. These include having footbridges close to schools on highways,” he said.
Introducing road safety into the school curriculum as a life skill at an early age is another way of reducing accidents.
“This will have a positive impact on their road user behaviour as they grow up,” he said.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), more than 500 children die every day die in road crashes, translating to 186,300 children each year.