Road safety remains a low political priority in Kenya as government prefers road construction – report

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By Samwel Doe Ouma @Samweldoe

Road safety remains a low political priority in Kenya as government prefers road construction to road safety improvements despite high numbers of deaths from road crashes, a newstudypoints out. Released in March, At the crossroads: The politics of road safety in Nairobi, a case study published by Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and World Resources Institute, says Kenya Government prioritizes road construction over road safety measures.

The study for example cites the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s manifesto that outlines a number of roads under construction with no mention of road safety measures. “New roads are a tangible sign of government action, whereas road safety improvements are less visible, and so politicians can gain more public recognition for road improvements than for road safety improvements,” the report reads in part.

According to statistics from the National Transport Authority (NTSA) 2,919 people died from road crashes in Kenya last year. Lack of road safety measures in road construction, the report notes, endangers road users to crashes. Continued prioritization of road construction without consideration of the consequences for urban mobility and safety is a serious challenge for road safety, notes the study.

“Overcoming road safety issues remains a low political priority. For an individual to move around Nairobi, the fastest, safest and most comfortable option is to use a private vehicle. Those who can’t afford this, travel in a minibus (Matatus) or on a motorbike taxi (boda-boda). If this is expensive, they must walk,” the report says adding “there is, no strong collective demand for improved public transport instead, individuals demand more space and better roads for cars.”

The report further says that government and donors justify investment in road construction on economic grounds, pushing safety issues to the peripheries of road expansion initiatives. “International donors such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), European Union and the Chinese Government appear to view investment in roads primarily from an economic development perspective, overlooking public health concerns and focusing on engineering technicalities instead,” the report pronounces.

Corruption and poor traffic laws enforcement also impede on road safety measures. “Traffic police department do not deny the existence of corrupt police officers but apportion the blame to both the individual police and the bribe giver. “It is widely understood that if a motorist is stopped by the police, they may avoid prosecution by paying a bribe to the officer,” reads the study.

The past decade has seen the government construct multi-lane roads such as Thika Road, Nairobi Southern Bypass. According to NTSA data, more than half of all fatal road crashes in Nairobi occur on these new high- speed highways with the collisions peaking during the weekend. Latest data places pedestrians as the most vulnerable road users. NTSA cites poor visibility, jaywalking and drink walking or distracted driving as ma jor reasons why motor vehicles hit pedestrians.

However, speeding is usually the reason that collisions become fatal. The report recommends road designs that incorporate safety of all users. “Traffic collisions are widely considered to be the fault of the individual, and therefore government response often focuses on forcing behavioral change such as building physical barriers like railings or speed humps. Such interventions largely overlook the root causes of road safety problems, such as poor road design and limited mobility options,” the report reads in part.

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