An accurate calculation of the real cost of traffic crashes in the country is the first step to curbing the rising incidents of road carnage, a Newsplex data analysis and interviews with key insurance sector insiders and accident victims reveal.
''What we are lacking as a country is a culture on which road safety can thrive, something we can create only if road users understand the cost of their actions or inactions both at the personal and national levels,'' said Brian Akwir, director of the Insurance Institute of Kenya.
The World Health Organization, back in 2014, estimated that Kenya loses about five percent of its GDP or Sh387.5 billion to traffic crashes. The figure was expected to rise and currently is most likely to be above the global average of three percent.
In the first 10 months of 2018, 2,585 people had lost their lives on Kenyan roads, according to the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). This was an 11 percent increase from 2,331, in the same period last year.
The nation's wealth is eaten away through ways such as medical bills, property damage, and injury to or death of economically productive citizens.
As the world marks the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, the country can attempt to estimate the economic cost of road carnage, but the irreparable social and emotional damage on the many disabled by road crashes and families and friends of those killed is grave beyond measure.
The Newsplex analysis of NTSA data shows that the average age of people killed in road crashes is 33 years, confirming that indeed Kenyan roads have taken away many young and productive citizens. Many more have been disabled.
Motor vehicle insurance
There are also sector-specific shocks caused by runaway road carnage. The insurance sector, for instance, has been greatly affected by a rise in claims from motor vehicle owners, many of them arising from traffic accidents. The sector registered claims amounting to Sh26.8 billion in 2017, a 63 percent rise from Sh16.4 billion in 2012, according to the Insurance Regulation Authority.
''Besides the numbers, there is also a rise in rate of claims which is making the business less profitable, and fraudulent claims resulting from motor accidents in particular, is robbing the sector of the resources that should be used to settle genuine claims in good time so that clients' businesses and lives can go on,'' said Akwir.
According to Akwir, the long value chain between the insurance company and the client also leads to delayed settlements of claims if any of the intermediaries fail to do their job properly and efficiently. Actors within this long value chain include surveyors, risk assessors, mediators, motor assessors, investigators and the courts, when need be.
When Joseph Mwenjeri, a Nairobi businessman, was involved in a road accident and his car written off in April this year, it took six months before his claim was settled by the insurance company. During the long wait, his business slowed down. ''Mine was mainly a family car but I also used it to pick up and deliver goods to customers. After losing it in the accident, doing business wasn't as easy, and at times I had to hire transport services, thereby increasing my cost of production,'' he said.
It turned out that the payment had been delayed by the investigator taking too much time to conclude the investigation and file a report.
It takes even longer to settle claims if matters end up in court. Court records show that there are court cases on insurance claims that have been pending for decades.
Worse than the delay in payments are instances when motor owners or passengers go without any financial compensation in the event that the vehicle involved in an accident is not insured or the claim is rejected on a technicality.
''To improve consumer satisfaction, we encourage consumers to be aware of what they are buying and to understand the contract they are getting into, making sure it meets their needs,'' said Godfrey Kiptum, acting CEO of the Insurance Regulatory Authority.
Kiptum said the authority receives about 2,000 complaints every year, out of hundreds of thousands of policy sold annually.
Accidents with mass casualties draw extensive media coverage and public attention and sympathy. But as soon as the media spotlight moves on, the public too moves with it, leaving those directly affected by the deaths in painful solitude.
A decade ago, Rose Wafula, a 59-year-old mother of four who lives in Nairobi, lost her second-born daughter when a bus plunged into a river on the Busia-Kisumu road and claimed the lives of all the 15 passengers. Jane Nanjala, 27, had been in her first job in Kakamega town for only two months when she was transferred to Busia. She decided to take a few days, of the five she had been given to relocate, to see her family in Nairobi, en route to Busia.
After her stay in Nairobi, she left for her new posting but never arrived.
''Since she hadn’t seen me on the evening that she was travelling, she called me when they reached Nakuru to tell me how much she missed me. She also complained that the driver was driving carelessly but everyone else seemed comfortable with it,'' said Ms Wafula. This was to be her last conversation with her daughter, as she was called in the morning the following day to be given the saddest news she's ever received in her life.
''She was my only hope after a long struggle raising the four of them. Since she got this job, she kept reassuring me that things will finally change for the better. Actually, on the day she took the night bus to Busia, she had spent most of her time in town opening a bank account for me,'' she recalls.
And with Jane's death vanished the warmth and love of a daughter, a sister and a friend as well as the promise of a better life for a struggling family. Such is the case for thousands of families that lose loved ones in traffic crashes.
In the absence of a strong culture of respect for traffic rules, road safety in the country has been left at the mercy of law enforcers who have been accused many times in the past of laxity and knee-jerk reactions.
The most profound attempt to bring sanity to Kenyan roads was back in 2003 with the introduction of the Traffic Act Cap 403, effectively ushering in the ''Michuki rules'', famously named after the then powerful, no-nonsense Minister for Transport, the late John Michuki. The rules, whose legality was also challenged in court, worked well while the minister was at the helm of the Transport docket, but receded to the background after he left the ministry following a Cabinet reshuffle in 2005.
Ever since, the laws that once promised to promote road safety and turn around the chaotic public transport sector have lain prostrate, only stroked once in a while by law enforcers either to solicit bribes from road users or to lull the huge national outcries that usually follow grisly road crashes.
In fact, the current strict application of the traffic laws only started after 55 people lost their lives in a road accident near Fort Ternan, on the Londiani-Muhoroni road, in Kericho County in October.
Interestingly, NTSA data indicates that it is not the much-publicised mass motor-vehicle deaths known to inspire action by traffic police officers that pump up the annual totals of traffic crash casualties in Kenya. Though a case of a pedestrian being killed by a speeding vehicle rarely gets significant public attention, all such cases put together make pedestrian deaths the leading category, with two in five (38 percent) of traffic deaths.
With a system that responds quicker to prominent and highly publicised tragedies, it is therefore unlikely that the authorities would put in place mechanisms to protect this silent majority, as should be the case.
Pedestrians are followed by passengers (24 percent), motorcyclists (18 percent), drivers (10 percent) and pillion passengers (eight percent).
Globally, more than 270,000 pedestrians lose their lives on the roads, and they account for more than a fifth (22 percent) of the world's road deaths, according to the WHO. The chances of a pedestrian getting knocked down to death by a moving vehicle increases with increase in speed. An adult pedestrian has a less than 20 percent chance of dying if struck by a car moving slower than 50kph, but almost a 60 per cent risk of dying if hit by a car moving at 80kph, according to WHO.
The WHO estimates that just a reduction in the average speed by five percent would reduce the number of pedestrians killed by a third.
There is also a huge increase in the number of deaths that involved motorcyclists, with an 18 percent increase from 401 in 2017 to 472 in 2018. This is the largest increase of any category, raising more questions about the safety precautions put in place by motorcyclists, especially those in the less-regulated boda-boda subsector. Still, motorcyclists are the majority on Kenyan roads, accounting for two in five of the 2.8 million motor vehicles in 2016, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Nairobi killer roads
Nairobi County accounts for a fifth of the nationwide road deaths, with Mombasa Road claiming one in nine lives, the highest in the capital. This confirms that things haven’t changed since 2015 when NTSA ranked the road as the leading killer of all city roads. It is followed by Thika Road and Waiyaki Way with nine percent each, Jogoo Road (five percent) and Eastern Bypass (four percent).
Nairobi County is followed by Nakuru County (eight percent), Kiambu County (six percent), Machakos and Kakamega with four percent each.
The peak time for road crashes in Kenya is between 4pm and 9pm, according to Newsplex analysis of NTSA data.
Lack of adequate safety precautions by road users in the city is also to be blamed in many of the deaths and injuries. In Nairobi County, for instance, about one in 14 road deaths (seven percent) involve road users attempting to steal a ride (hang on moving vehicles without the driver's knowledge), alight or board a moving vehicle thus getting run over.