Negative attitudes and behavior are to blame for the high incidence of road calamities in most parts of the developing world, Kenya included.
Road fatalities are lower in Europe, for instance, which has far much higher volumes of vehicles, and this can be attributed to the general observance of traffic rules among European populations, according to a leading voice in road safety in the country.
“The biggest challenge is our behavior. That is where the biggest problem is,” said Mr Francis Meja, the Director General of the National Transport and Safety Authority. “We have a bad culture. The way we use our roads is bad.”
Most people in this part of the world ignore basic traffic rules, Meja observed. People pay little heed to simple rules; rules that are meant to enhance the safety of the road user, such as wearing a safety belt.
Bodabodas maintain a strong lead in traffic accidents in the country, Meja said, while underscoring the need to address the problem of accidents in this sector.
“If you compare 2017 and 2018, bodaboda has the highest growth in terms of the fatalities that we are seeing on the roads. We still have a very big problem. If we do not manage the problem at this stage, then we will never be able to deal with it.”
Of the high number of deaths and injuries in the bodaboda sector, Meja said it is the result of failure to adhere to basic traffic rules. Bodabodas, he said, being motorcycles, are defined in the traffic act as motor vehicles and ought to stick to the rules, just as other vehicles. Rules such as wearing helmets for pillion passengers and protective gear for the riders are continuously being flouted.
In some cases the riders don the helmets but not the passengers, which he said is equally wrong. “We’ve even gone a step further, and anchored in law, that today if you want to buy a motorcycle, it must be supplied with two helmets and two reflector materials at the minimum.”
Not all is lost for bodabodas and road safety in general, however, as the country has made significant gains in its road safety agenda over the years.
“I strongly believe that we have made progress,” Meja told a local TV station.
“If you look at the bodaboda phenomenon, before 2008 when the government waived duty on Mr Francis Meja, the Director General NTSA motorcycles, the number of motorcycles in this country was low. Immediately NTSA came on board, we have very comprehensive bodaboda rules and regulations, which will help address all the concerns.”
According to Meja, the rules place responsibility on three persons – the rider, the owner, and the pillion passenger. He made the remarks as the world celebrated the Fifth United Nations Global Road Safety Week, which was held from 6-12 May 2019. Meja was thankful to initiatives that have sprung up at the constituency level in parts of the country aimed at enhancing a culture of road safety among members of the public.
Nicholas Lusasi, the National Welfare Coordinator of the Bodaboda Association of Kenya (BAK), acknowledged that the bodaboda industry is beset with safety challenges, some of which are tied to the informal nature of the industry. The industry is an attractive venture for many desperate youth. Due to the ease of entry by bodaboda riders, the industry presents limited opportunities for the public to verify the training of the riders whose services they seek.
As part of the government’s interventions aimed at tightening the safety within the bodaboda industry, Meja said a taskforce is at hand to revisit the workings of the industry and recommend proper action that needs to be taken to enhance safety in the sector. Acknowledging that the sector is a significant source of employment for the country’s youth, Meja said there’s a need to balance the need to create jobs for the youth with maintaining safety on the roads.
The bodaboda rider takes charge of the ride, including the safety of the passenger, much like an airplane captain is accountable for the safety and welfare of the passengers aboard his craft, Meja said. It therefore behooves the bodaboda riders to ensure that their pillion passengers comply with the applicable traffic laws.