Published on 3 November by Japheths Ogendi
Last month, President Kibaki signed the National Transport and Safety Authority Bill of 2012 (http://www.standardmedia.co.ke). The National Transport and Safety Authority Bill, 2012 is an Act for Parliament to provide for the establishment of the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA), its powers and functions and for connected purposes.
The National Transport and Safety Authority Bill, 2012 is a welcome move Kenya. It is welcome for many reasons chief amongst them is the hope that it may put in place strategies that may contribute to a reduction in the dramatic rise in road traffic crashes and deaths which are being experienced in Kenya today. Road traffic crashes exert huge burden to the Kenyan economy. From the time Kenya attained independence from the British rule in 1963 there has been a dramatic increase in traffic deaths in Kenya: from 548 in 1963 to 3,158 in 2008, a 476% increase over a period of 45 years.
This is an unfortunate situation since road traffic crashes are not “accidents” but crashes whose risk factors are known and modifiable. It will be a disaster if we allow our society to be held captive by the advancement in transport technology. Roads, vehicles and any other forms of transport in our society should not result in deaths of that magnitude. All efforts should be employed to ensure that strategies that are tested and proven to be protective to transport users and existing good practice in transport safety planning to prevent the rising trend in traffic deaths and injuries are systematically applied. We learn from the experience of several countries that effective strategies for improving safety have a greater chance of success if there is a distinct government agency with the power and resources to plan and implement its activities. And that is why the idea of the NTSA is a welcome move.
The Bill on the creation of the National Transport and Safety Authority in Kenya is not a reinvention of the wheel. We are picking over from what has been implemented by quite a number of countries over four decades ago. That is an advantage in that we can learn from their successes but avoid the pitfalls where they failed. Kenya is a late comer but she can afford to run much faster because she has the lense to see what can be avoided. The experiences of Sweden and the United States are good examples. When these countries created traffic safety bodies separate from the main transport departments in the 1960s, they succeeded in implementation, in a relatively short period of time, of a range of new road safety interventions. The Swedish Road Safety Office (SRSO) was established in the late 1960s with responsibility for road safety. Its creation saw the number of road deaths between 1970 and the mid-1980s reduced each year. In 1993, the SRSO merged with the more powerful and better-resourced Swedish National Road Administration (SNRA) to which the ministries of transport and communications delegated full responsibility for road safety policy. Similarly, when the United States realized that they were experiencing dramatic increase in road traffic casualties, the Highway Safety Act of 1970 established a traffic safety agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency has the mandate for reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes. These experiences are kind of similar to our scenario in Kenya today.
In Kenya, most of the functions which the NTSA is mandated to carry out were previously described to be the jurisdiction for the Road Transport Department which was operating through the framework of Traffic Act (Cap 403). By virtue of its specified jurisdiction, the Road Transport Department was aimed at promotion of road safety through its function of administering of the Traffic and Transport licensing. To the extent that it performed these responsibilities, the department was a significant player in promotion of road safety in Kenya. The department, which had two sections- the licensing and the vehicle information sections – was headed by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.
The proposed elevation of the department to a status of Authority means that its muscles will be strengthened and much more energized. Hopefully, it will be more powerful and better resourced. Certain concerns surface quite distinctly and fast. The need to put in place proper and reliable transport information systems in Kenya has been voiced in several fora in Kenya. A lack of up-to-date and reliable information on vehicles on Kenyan roads and their owners; crashes and there characteristics; and traffic offences and convictions made has been identified as an obstacle to road traffic safety management. The need to institutionalize collection, storage, retrieval and analysis of traffic data has been recommended and the proposed NTSA should be fully briefed. The need for this can never be overemphasized if we are to embark on a serious and result-focused transport management and road safety strategies. The creation of this database is a task which is before the proposed Authority and to which I am quite optimistic they have the capacity to implement. Earlier suggestions exist, if one cares to check and these included: development of fully-operational Transport Integrated Management System (TIMS); standardized databases for road traffic aspects not covered by the TIMS; identification of an institutional home for TIMS and relevant data sharing institutions identified for inclusion in the programme fully operational.
The list of things which the Authority can do is long and impressive. Space and time do not allow for inclusion of all of them. I will focus on the three things which, I would advice, the Authority should not do during its lifetime. One, the authority should not commit the mistakes that highly-motorized nations made in attempts to improve safety. One of these mistakes that can be avoided includes, investing heavily on apparently easy and intuitively sensible strategies and interventions but whose benefits are not research informed. This danger is more alive in road safety efforts. Road safety work is one area where everyone seems to have some fancy idea on what can be done to improve safety.
There is a naïve, but quite widespread conviction that the “road safety education and awareness creation” is a panacea for road safety problems. That is, if one mounts a heavy “awareness creation program” then one can succeed in dramatically reducing the frequency and magnitude of traffic deaths and injuries. The origin of this mindset, deeply inbuilt even among many career road safety workers is traced on strategies which had been aimed at diverting attention from real issues on road safety. These include the contribution of the vehicle and the roads environments which brings the responsibility beyond the mere blame on victim but also to the doorsteps of the planners of the whole transport system. The need for a paradigm shift in the way we need to approach road safety efforts can never be more emphasized. Data that authoritatively describe the real protective value of ‘road safety education’ may not be as easy to come by as one may imagine. Yet the constant and intuitive appeal it makes to many is overwhelming. Most workers, consultancies and many agencies conclude their work by recommending the “need for more safety education”.
The NTSA has a component on “safety education and awareness creation” and this is one of its proposed mandates. I guess it will have a budget. Most likely a huge budget and sometimes taking over from the other vote heads which are not easily implementable. It is not my intention to dismiss the contribution of road safety education as a strategy for improving the safety. What I want to caution against is the possible danger of obsession with its role and the inclination to view it as a panacea for all road safety problems. The NTSA should be very cautious on the amount of resources apportioned to this strategy.
Two, the Authority should not neglect the research component. Research can overcome misconceptions and prejudices about road crash injuries. The NTSA should strengthen and adopt strategies or interventions based on evidence. If you ask developing countries like Sweden, Finland, United Kingdom, and similar countries that have managed to reduce road deaths in there respective countries to levels which are currently the lowest globally how they have succeeded in this effort, they will tell you that it did not come on a silver platter, neither did it take place overnight. They invested heavily on research and it paid dividends. The authority should encourage the development of rational decision-making in public policy based on impartial research and information. This can only de done if the national research capacity on road safety is fully developed. This is a key feature of the new model of road safety which the authority should embrace. All possible efforts should be made to create and encourage a cadre of national and local professionals who can use research findings to calculate the implications for policy and programmes. This is a task from which the authority should not shy away from. The component of research is clearly included in the bill. Fear however exists, fear based on past experiences with similar policy documents; to what extent will what is put on paper be put in practice? This is the challenge. And the challenge is quite big in research aspect. Research needs patience and resources. Research should strive to be as multidisciplinary as possible. Solution to road problems is not a preserve of one discipline. It is not a monopoly of road engineers only. It is not a preserve of the Hospital Emergency Departments workers only. Road deaths affect our society in quite a variety of ways. These include societies left with widows and orphans to be cared for by the society; and, society deprived of its young and productive members. Its solution should, quite naturally, be multidisciplinary. The increasing contribution to road safety work by urban planners, sociologists and anthropologists is beginning to take an increasingly important dimension. Their contribution in research must be given the weight they bear. This is a task which stands before the Authority but to which I am optimistic it has the capacity to handle.
Three, authority should guide against failing to implement context-based road safety priorities. The mandate of the NRSA is to “register and license motor vehicles; conduct motor vehicle inspection and certification; develop and implement road safety”. Research has consistently demonstrated the overrepresentation of pedestrians in traffic fatalities in Kenya. They are then followed by public transport vehicles. What is the implication of this, in terms of road safety priorities? The authority should is well-informed by this consistent data that there intervention priorities should list pedestrians and public transport safety topmost. Development and implementation of road safety strategies that do not pay serious attention to pedestrians and public transport vehicles will not result in real improvement in road safety. The problem of pedestrians is much more pronounced in urban areas like Nairobi where almost 70% of traffic deaths are pedestrians. Cyclists have been scared out of the roads and no longer constitute a significant share of urban mobility. Improved safety on our roads will definitey brings them back to the roads. And good news, this will bring the synergy in health, space and increased social interactions.
Documented and well-tested strategies of reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths on the roads exist for those who want see. Sweden, Netherlands and Germany, for example, have managed to reduce the number and frequency of pedestrians dying on the roads without compromising transportation by these modes. They offer decades of experience in reducing pedestrian fatalities. Tremendous work to a better understanding of the road injury problems of vulnerable road users (a term that is applied on pedestrians and cyclists because of their vulnerability to traffic crashes) and to identifying possible interventions in low-income and middle-income countries has come from the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Center at the Institute of Technology in New Delhi, India. Africa can be benefit from the contribution of the Centre for Industrial and Scientific Research in South Africa. In New York City, a massive programme is being implemented in the streets to meet the needs of walkers and cyclists and to improve the safety of these categories of road users. The NTSA can encourage and strengthen collaboration with these centers to encourage the sharing of experiences. The clause of “motor vehicle inspection and certification” can be extended to include the mandatory provision of structural designs by the motor vehicle manufactures that are forgiving to pedestrians, in the case of a collision between pedestrian and motor vehicle.
The issues of incident management, which include the provision of medical care and rescue services after crashes have occurred, are currently inadequate and un-coordinated. The incident management can be improved by compelling roads, traffic, and medical authorities to develop, implement and operate incident management plans.
In conclusion, the NTSA should, in conducting road safety strategies, be guided by the concept of a systems approach to identify problems; formulate strategy set targets; monitor performance.
Japheths Ogendi, MPH is a PhD candidate and Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Maseno University in Kenya. Mr Ogendi is an affiliate at the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport (ACET). Mr Ogendi is currently conducting research with the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) as a Volvo Research and Educational Foundation exchange fellow.