The question of pedestrian safety and behaviour on Kenyan roads is back in focus after fresh data showed crossing the road without regard for traffic is the second fastest rising cause of crashes.
Data by the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) showed that the number of crashes due to walking or standing on the road jumped by 100 percent to 40 cases between January and October this year compared to a year ago.
Stalled vehicles dangerously abandoned on the road registered the highest increase among causes of crashes — posting a 111.1 percent jump to 19 cases between January and October 2019 compared to the previous year.
This data is likely to rekindle debate on pedestrian behaviour and safety on the roads. While pedestrians have been accused of recklessly crossing the road at undesignated points, there has also been concern about lack of safety facilities such as sidewalks, foot bridges and zebra crossings.
Most highways across the country don’t have footbridges — leaving pedestrians at risk of collision with vehicles. It is only recently that the government stepped-up the installation of footbridges on key roads, including the Nairobi-Thika thoroughfare where two more facilities are set to be fitted, adding to the existing 18 to enhance safety of those walking when speed bumps are removed.
The footbridges are being installed at Survey of Kenya (just before the junction to the Kenya School of Monetary Studies), the Garden Estate junction, Witeithie, and Mang’u areas.
The NTSA has also been installing a series of safety panels on major roads around the city, forcing jaywalkers to use areas designated for road crossing, including footbridges on the busy roads.
The NTSA has erected barriers on Airport North Road and Mombasa Road and Waiyaki Way in Nairobi although the authority aims to cover more high-risk spots along these roads.
Nairobi County (City Hall) has also introduced a traffic lights system that is set to give pedestrians more control on roads in Nairobi.
But even with these measures, there is a concern about lack of sidewalks.
For example, while the facilities have been provided on some roads in Nairobi, there is an emerging trend where the spaces have been taken over by small traders, including motor vehicle garages and furniture shops, especially in areas such as Buruburu, Umoja, South B, Langata, Imara Daima, South C, forcing pedestrians back on the road.
The motorcycle taxis (boda boda) and matatus also use the pedestrian walkways in an attempt to beat traffic jam.
A spot check shows that this kind of situation is common across all towns in Kenya — raising concern about lapses in enforcement of laws barring encroachment of road reserves.
Several countries rely on a twin strategy of safety features and hefty fines to improve pedestrian safety on their roads.
For instance, in the US, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Philippines and Singapore pedestrians are provided with safety features such zebra crossings and face hefty fines for not using them.
In China, traffic police have begun using facial-recognition technology to identify jaywalkers and automatically fine by text.
In parts of China such as central Hubei province, yellow posts equipped with lasers and motion-sensors have also been adopted to deal with unauthorised use of the roads. The system is designed such that people would get sprayed with water if they attempt to cross on a red light.
Pedestrians’ deaths in Kenya surged this year by 147 to register 1,049 fatalities out of a total of 2,735 traffic deaths recorded between January and October. This means that, in every eight traffic casualties, three of them are pedestrians, revealing a dire situation for pedestrians on Kenyan roads.
Motorcycle riders came second in the list of road fatalities, registering 815 deaths.
Despite being one of the most convenient means of transport, helping commuters to beat traumatising traffic jams in urban areas and to manoeuvre difficult terrain and poor road networks in rural areas, motorcycle deaths deal a blow to safety campaigns and reforms aimed at making this mode of transport safer.
The fresh data, released on Tuesday, also shows that Sunday continues to be the deadliest day for travellers on Kenyan roads. About 497 traffic deaths were registered on Sunday. A lower number of fatalities were registered in the other days of the week with Thursday going on record as the safest for road users.
In terms of time of the day, 8pm was the deadliest hour on Kenya roads in 2019 with 251 fatalities recorded, partly due to poor visibility and a rush to get home.
The safest time was 4am, partly due to low traffic.
“None Visibility Period from (1700hrs to 0759hrs) accounts for 69 percent, while Visibility Period from (0800hrs to 1659hrs) accounts for 31percent of the fatalities,’’ says the NTSA.
The report further shows the males accounted for the highest number of traffic accidents in 2019 at 83.3 percent, compared to females (16.7percent).
Also, Kenyans between the age of 30-34 years accounted for the highest number of total road accident fatalities at 298 deaths.
Private cars retained their position as the largest contributors to fatal accidents, accounting for 28 percent of reported cases.