Just over a year ago I lamented the inability of the NTSA to improve road safety through the means the agency was employing of bumps and speed traps. And last month President Kenyatta ordered its officers off the roads, and back to their desks and to leave highway management to the traffic police.
But did the NTSA do all that it could over the years? One could classify road safety hazards into three different groups: those the NTSA was aware of and tackled, those it seemed unaware of, and others that led motorists to do things like speeding.
The NTSA tackled speeding and drink-driving. But they also chose to ignore a host of other factors that caused accidents and deaths on the road. These include potholes that cause drivers to swerve, unmarked bumps, the lack of lane markings, handcarts on roads, slow trucks, pedestrians who don’t know how to cross roads, blinding spotlights/drivers who don’t know how full headlights work, matatus that stop on highways, drivers who don’t know how to use exit lanes, boda-boda riders who U-turn on the road, livestock grazing by the roadside, overtaking on blind corners, wrong use of climbing lanes (especially by cars going downhill), hawkers on highways, etc.
SOCIAL PROBLEM FOR DRIVERS
Some were chronicled with photos and videos, sent or shared by other road users on websites such as Ma3Route, but which got little action from the authorities. The NTSA did not act on them, unless video of the incidents “went viral on social media” and the traffic police were likely to follow suit.
But driving this week on the Southern Bypass and Outer Ring Road showed a bigger social problem for drivers and other road users. Outer Ring Road is still under construction and using it can be described as chaotic. Matatus stop on the road as there are no bus stops, roads turn into rock piles, it has no lanes markings or road signs, pedestrians climb over barriers to get to the road, and at one end a condemned building forces thousands of motorists to make a long and very inconvenient loop every day.
When driving on a road like this, squeezing through any free space, around buses, stopped matatus, motorbikes riding the wrong way, and pedestrians everywhere, motorists improvise their own rules to get by. And when drivers operate in such situations every day, how can they be expected to behave when given proper roads and highways?
MAKING UP FO LOST TIME
They are magically supposed to understand and behave once they get to Mombasa Road or Likoni Road or Enterprise Road. That they should know to drive on the left, observe lane discipline, indicate when turning, not overlap, follow traffic light and zebra-crossing instructions, and not to speed, etc.
And after going through chaos and slow traffic, and reaching an open road, and in wanting to make up for lost time, it is almost natural to drive faster. After spending an hour in traffic on Mombasa Road, and you reach the Southern Bypass, the only true highway in Nairobi, you would be stopped for speeding.
Or you would land at JKIA and luckily find no morning traffic on Mombasa Road, and rush to your office, only to be arrested for going over 50kph. Sadly, almost all new highways around East Africa are now dotted with numerous speeds traps of 30, 40, and 50kph and speed bumps.
The NTSA became deeply unpopular because of arbitrarily enforcing rules and only focusing on some activities and only on some roads. In its reincarnation, it should broaden its scope and work with other authorities to improve safety on all roads in Kenya.