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Behind the wheel or behind bars?

The report of yet another fatal traffic crash is all too familiar reading in our newspapers. Last Thursday, for example, The Star carried a photograph of a red bus with its windscreen smashed and side ripped out. Five people died and 12 were badly injured when the bus collided with a tractor late at night on the Busia-Mumias road.

It is a quite staggering projection if true, that deaths by road accident in Africa will soon surpass those resulting from Aids or malaria. The claim made last week during the marking of UN World Remembrance Day for Road Accident Victims has, unfortunately, more than a ring of truth to it, as any Kenyan with eyes to see will know.

Latest official figures for Kenya report 8,449 road crashes in one year with 2,669 people killed as a result. The true figures will be higher. Traffic accidents account for 32 deaths per 100,000 people in Africa compared to 11 per 100,000 in Western Europe.

Transport minister Amos Kimunya said that 85 per cent of these accidents resulted from human error and again the Forum has no reason to doubt the assertion. Red Cross goodwill ambassador and former Attorney General Charles Njonjo blamed matatus for most of the road accidents.

We would add Citi Hoppers and the like but again we agree. Every day we see the lunacy of buses of all shapes and sizes speeding along pavements, recklessly overtaking and generally careering along our highways without a thought to safety.

So what is to be done?

Kimunya said that the government will “continue to implement strategies aimed at improving road safety”, including encouraging higher passenger capacity vehicles, the development of national driver school training and driver test curriculum, road safety audits and ‘black spot’ analysis.

That’s all well and good but the Forum has a suggestion of its own (and we invite your suggestions too).

First we pose this question how many matatu or bus drivers are charged with manslaughter in a year? We would guess not many but it’s high time that these lunatics should be locked up after causing death by dangerous driving (and the owners heavily fined). Perhaps that would concentrate the minds of the others.

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