Letter to Transport Minister for safer roads in Kenya

for paper

This is the first joint post I have done, with a great friend and fellow blogger Daniel Ominde.  Although not travel stories, an important topic that needs to be heard.

Dear Cabinet Secretary for Transport,

It’s my hope that you are doing well, I know that you are such a busy man so I won’t waste much time with pleasantries. How are you doing with your plans on banning night travel? Well, to be frank I hope you are not making any progress.

Let me explain myself a bit, I do not in any way wish you failure. On the contrary I am a great believer in road safety, and I believe a lot of Kenyans are too. What I don’t believe in is the ban on night time public travel – not when we are trying to build a 24 hour economy. Do we have options? Yes sir, many options:

Mr. Cabinet Secretary, before we even tackle night time travel, driving on Kenyan roads during the day is in itself a daring act. From entire sections of the road missing to huge potholes that could swallow a small car. I remember a year ago a fast slip road in Nairobi having a hole going into underground drainage, the hole was as large as half a car.  This gigantic hole was not marked in anyway and for a vehicle approaching at even 50km/h it was a death trap.

So are you still in that “ban night time travel mood?” To me that’s kind of a superficial reaction to a very serious problem. It’s like the doctor saying “You have a headache, let’s chop off your head” or a teacher saying “the students failed exams, let’s ban exams.” In social media the came up with a term for it – they called it “#EngKamauLogic.”

I know you are smarter than what they were saying on twitter and you probably know of this other options that I will rush over very quickly without taking much of your precious time. I know your in-trays are full with correspondences you need to respond to so I’ll go straight to it.

Simple measures to ensure safer night time driving, such as having road markings need to be a must on all roads.  White lines marking the edges of the road and introduction of street lights in black spots will help drivers.  Even road signs warning drivers of potential hazardous areas.

Cyclists die on our roads everyday due to various factors that range from not knowing traffic rules to not having appropriate riding gear. Bicycles and Motorcycles play a huge role in supplementing our public transport system. It’s time that we enforced basic regulations that require cyclists to wear reflective clothing while riding at night.

On very busy roads I believe that pedestrians are also a problem, there needs to be pavements.  Due to the fact there is no lighting and no reflectors or high visibility jackets many people walking on the side of a busy street can cause cars to swerve last minute to avoid collisions.

The skill required by people to gain a driving license is not enough. Someone I know recently bought a driving license for six thousand shillings without sitting for a day in anyone’s driving school or doing a traffic test. Today he is out here driving on the road and risking the lives of hundreds of other road users.  The attitude of drivers in general needs to be changed, just because you have a larger vehicle does not mean you have the right to push smaller vehicles off the road.  I see this often happening to motorbike drivers forced from the tarmac and especially larger trucks and bus companies forcing smaller cars off the roadside.  And what is this attitude to blinding people with the use of full beams???!!!  Again correct training in driving especially with the use of your lights at night and change of attitude could help the accident rate.

Another area of huge stupidity is the lack of education on why seat belts are important.  They were designed for a reason, to save lives and not just for the people in the front seats of a car.  Have you ever seen what happens to a back seat passenger not wearing a seat belt in a crash?  They often get thrown forwards out of the front windscreen.  Enforcement of seatbelt laws for all passengers is a must; this should also include the overloading of passengers in vehicles.  Four or more people to three seats is not just uncomfortable but outright dangerous.  There is also the issue of overloading goods on trucks; so produce is falling off and their brakes not being able to deal with the added weight.  Surely educating businesses that having a road worthy truck, with correctly skilled drivers and carrying the correct amount of goods would in the long run be cheaper for their business, as their trucks would not have to be completely replaced due to horrendous crashes.

Most importantly the government needs to enforce the transport laws in place and stop the turning of a blind eye and out right corruption from the police force.  What happened to motorbikes only allowed one passenger?  I see daily the majority of motorbikes taking at least 2 passengers and barely anyone wearing helmets.  Rwanda has managed to enforce this law and even managed to enforce that all passengers have helmets provided for them too.

Of course all this takes time and money, but trying to ban night time driving is only a short term response to one of the biggest fatalities in this country.  Longer term goals and education need to be put in place.  The education of driving at night to stop the blinding of drivers with full beam lights and bullying of smaller vehicles off the road, the wearing of seat belts for all passengers, reflectors on all bicycles and the state of the run down roads should be the absolute starting points for the government to work on.

What is of huge concern to me is that Kenya already has enough traffic laws that if enforced to the letter will make driving around pretty safe for everyone.  But as long as police officers keep taking bribes from the matatus plying my estate route every morning carrying 18 instead of 14 passengers, we will still be seeing lots of accidents on the roads even if we were to ban night time public transport.

I am hoping to see something tangible done to bring sanity back to our roads.

Yours truly,

Two concerned Citizens