The recent National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) report on road safety audit shows high-risk traffic operations on national roads and Nairobi streets with focus on the most dangerous sections, commonly called “blackspots”.
The NTSA should be commended for the audit to identify the blackspots and their locations, invariably in the high-density traffic roads passing through equally densely populated informal marketplaces.
The report also shows that the agency’s initiatives to address road carnage are not targeted at the blackspots because much of its resources and attention is concentrated on streamlining the administration function. ICT hardware has taken precedence in a massive automation drive to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of delivery of timely and responsive services to motorists.
However, the report shows a mismatch between the initiatives and the recommended remedial measures, which has caused some pronounced structural and administrative failures. This is a disconnect between the accidents at the blackspots and actions being taken to tame them.
The blackspots have been located on roads and streets running through the densely populated neighbourhoods in the city and cosmopolitan towns in other counties. Marketplaces, schools, commercial centres and residential estates are some of the central locations.
This means it is the mix of large numbers of vehicles and pedestrians walking and/or crossing roads and streets with many high-speed motorists that creates the accident-enhancing conditions at the blackspots.
Separation of motor- from foot traffic, putting up signs, lighting, speed bumps and traffic control systems are some of the safety engineering upgrades that require immediate attention.
These should be undertaken with focus on engineering systems and technologies to improve coordination and regulation of mass movement in these areas.
Mass engineering concepts, applications and models are needed to effectively and efficiently channel the movement of heavy traffic on upgraded streets with superior capabilities to handle thousands of people and vehicles moving at the same time and section without collisions.
SMART DRIVING LICENCES
The NTSA has prioritised areas with no direct immediate impact on the blackspots. Some of the interventions include a new curriculum, smart driving licences and such instruments and gadgets to aid in administration.
Somers, a risk management pioneer, argues that road “safety standards equal the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration function”.
The higher accident rates in disorderly and chaotic traffic operations represent the structural and administrative failures in the national road safety administration.
This implies that there is an acute deficit of institutional capacity building, indicating the need for technical support for the development and implementation of evidence-based counter-measures.
There are genuine fears that the accidents will only go up by leaps and bounds unless the agency redirects focus and resources towards addressing the blackspots.
Granted, human factor is largely to blame — as put by the principal secretary. Then, the Transport ministry would concentrate on improvement of drivers and fixing safety engineering furniture on the blackspots.
INCREASING SAFETY MARGINS
Driver education would be the most cost-effective counter-measure to tame the rising accidents.
It is the universal tool of improving the competence and skills of drivers, increasing safety margins and reducing accidents.
This is the way to address the multiple influencing factors described in the report as “unsafe driving behaviour, lack of road furniture, inadequate passenger safety protection” especially on the high-capacity buses.
But the NTSA is not wholly to blame. The main problem is the public perception of high-risk traffic exposures.
This is main reason for the general indifference to and ignorance of the fatal exposure to accidents at blackspots.
The “blackbox”, which is being touted as panacea for the runaway road carnage, only traces and tracks the roadmap movement of vehicles.
It does not address the human factor, which accounts for well over 80 per cent of accidents.
These gadgets will be nothing more than another frustrating dud speed governor project. At any rate, they are targeted at the matatus — which, by the way, only account for less than 15 per cent of the total accidents. They only occasionally kill such high numbers of passengers in a single accident, which raises emotive public anger and bitterness.
Prof Muune is the director, Africa Road Safety Services Ltd. [email protected]