There was a lot in the press this weekend about road traffic accidents in Kenya, which was an issue highlighted by public outrage that thirty people died together in a single road accident involving a PSV (Public Service Vehicle) last week and were buried at mass funeral in Kisii on Friday. Long distance buses (country buses) and mini buses (or matatus) are more often than not in the centre of road accidents because they speed around and drive dangerously. In town, it’s most rare to see a smashed car in the road without a smashed matatu or two next to it.
In October 2003 new regulations were introduced by Government, spearheaded by a minister named John Michuki – they became commonly known as the ‘Michuki Rules’. He brought in sensible measures such as setting a limit on the number of passengers per vehicle, the compulsory fitting of speed governors so that buses could not exceed 80kms per hour, making the fitting and use of seatbelts compulsory and insisting on uniformed PSV crew (touts and drivers had been becoming increasingly aggressive and gangster like) and white painted vehicles with a smart yellow stripe (before they were covered in graffiti & slogans). At the time there was uproar and public bus services were suspended as their operators staged strikes and then hiked ticket prices, however soon enough, with the help of traffic police enforcing the new laws, the measures were upheld and the general public heaved a sigh of relief as they believed that climbing aboard a bus would no longer mean taking their lives into their foolhardy hands.
Now, in 2007, matatu and bus operators have reached a point where they’ve figured out ways of tampering with speed governors and overloading is taking place again. Seatbelts are broken and redundant. There are rumours of bribery among traffic police officers who seem to have run out of steam in the fight to enforce the public transport ‘Michuki Rules’. Further complicating matters is the fact that the majority of PSVs are owned by top ranking Government officials and police officers.
Statistics of those killed in road traffic accidents in Kenya has increased (– although there was a lull in 2004 after new PSV rules were implemented). Here is a comparison with UK statistics:
2003 - 2,937 died on the roads in Kenya UK – 3,508 dead due to road accidents 2004 – 2,264 (i.e. the statistic decreased) 2005 - 2,531 (numbers up again) UK – 3,201 fatalities 2006 stats are predicted to be higher again. UK – 3,172 fatalities
UK population mid 2006, over 60 million Kenya population 2005, over 34 million
So you are almost fifty percent more likely to be killed on the roads in Kenya, but road accidents here make front page news because we can blame poor roads and badly maintained vehicles, whereas in England the statistics seem very high in spite of the newest roads and modern vehicles equiped with air bags and the latest technology.