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How many more innocents must die on our roads?

Kenyan leaders, what are you looking at if not at the carnage on our roads?

We have always had a high rate of road accidents, but it has now reached crisis proportions. There seem to be awful crashes occurring across Kenya every single day. These result in deaths and dismemberments, grief and disruption, tragedy and dislocation.

So why don’t we care? Is this issue not serious enough?

An organization that does care, Kenya Red Cross, with its response teams and ambulances, is often the only agency to be found quickly on the scene of these accidents. It is also busy raising the awareness levels of apathetic Kenyans.

Here are some facts and figures that may just wake you up. Nearly three in five of those who die are vulnerable road users such as pedestrians or cyclists, who have usually had nothing to do with causing the crash. One third of fatalities are innocent passengers, many killed using unsafe public transport. Nearly half of fatalities are children and young adults.

The effects go beyond the immediate casualties. Breadwinners are often lost, leading to continued difficulty for large numbers of family members.

And here’s the thing: contrary to popular ignorance, these crashes are not acts of God. They are not bad luck. They are not natural phenomena. They are not a necessary cost of development. They are mostly being caused by the acts of commission and omission of human beings. They can be prevented, if only we care about preventing them.

You know the roll call of villains. The policemen who look away from bad driving and badly maintained vehicles, as long as their palms are greased. The drivers who handle their vehicles like utter imbeciles, endangering lives all around them. The agencies who have issued driving licenses corruptly and without proper testing for decades, unleashing a deadly swarm of bad drivers onto our roads. The contractors who build the world’s shoddiest roads, filled with unnecessary cracks and potholes. And the leaders who are supposed to act on this daily menace, but somehow find better things to do.

If there is a day of judgement some time, all of these actors in the tragedy will have blood on their hands.

It is time to say: enough is enough. What are we all waiting for, to only feel this pain when we lose a loved one? Is the trauma all around us not a sufficient call to action?

Several people are doing their bit. The Red Cross and others are using social media to raise awareness as well as track and respond to accidents. Well-intentioned Kenyans are exposing the number plates and photos of bad drivers on Twitter. But this is not something that can be done by individuals alone: those who are paid to regulate and police our roads have to wake up, or be woken up.

Simple things will make a big difference. For one, cracking down on speeding (if you travel at 32 km/h, there is a 2.5 per cent chance you will kill a person you hit with your vehicle; if you double that speed, the probability rises to 90 per cent). For another, cracking down on those cretins who insist on driving when hopelessly drunk.

Restoring law and order is a very necessary first condition. The law of the jungle now rules in Kenya’s roads, with drivers ignoring every regulation, overtaking and overlapping with crazed abandon – and, increasingly, speeding away after hit-and-run incidents.

Bad driving has to have bad consequences on the reckless and the complacent. We have to reclaim our sense of civilization and not let this situation deteriorate further. Stand up and stand behind all initiatives to end the madness. And when on the road, neither participate in nor ignore the lunacy around you.

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