Deadly Kenyan Crash Underscores Traffic Safety Woes

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- The wrenched and twisted wreck was, in itself, shocking enough: A passenger bus in Kenya crashed through a barrier at a sharp curve on Thursday, flipping over, tearing off the roof and killing 41 people, according to the Kenya Red Cross.

But perhaps the worst tragedy was how predictable the accident was.

Last week, two car crashes occurred at the same curve where the bus went off the road, leaving at least 10 people dead, according to local news reports. Another deadly accident in nearby Narok, at the junction for the popular safari destination Maasai Mara, killed two more people later in the day on Thursday.

But in particular, a series of fatal bus crashes have shocked the nation -- including a school bus accident last month that killed 20 people and a bus crash in February that killed at least 35 people -- underscoring the serious issue of traffic safety here.

President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed Thursday to take action on road safety in Kenya. "We must all begin taking responsibility and to protect the lives of Kenyans on our roads," he said.

The problem goes well beyond Kenya. According to the World Health Organization, Africa is the deadliest region for road traffic deaths, with 24.1 fatalities per 100,000 people. That is more than twice the rate in Europe, where the figure is 10.3 deaths per 100,000, in spite of the fact that Europe has vastly more cars, trucks and buses.

"The African region has 2 percent of the world's registered vehicles but a disproportionate 16 percent of the world's road traffic deaths," said Tami Toroyan, a technical officer in the department of violence and injury prevention at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Rural roads tend to be unlit, and vehicles are frequently overcrowded. Accidents are common and often deadly, with drivers speeding and executing dangerous passing maneuvers on narrow two-lane stretches. Roads without sidewalks or shoulders are plentiful, posing significant dangers to pedestrians and cyclists.

Kenya has already taken steps as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies road-safety initiative, founding a National Transport and Safety Authority this year to tackle the problem. Significant hurdles remain and many deadly accidents appear to go unreported.

In the World Health Organization's Global Status Report on Road Safety this year, the official figure for road traffic deaths in Kenya was around 3,000. But the organization estimated that the actual figure was much higher, at nearly 8,500 deaths. One-third of all fatalities are passengers, many of them killed "in unsafe forms of public transportation," the World Health Organization said.

Thursday's accident happened about a two-hour drive west of Nairobi around 2 a.m. The bus was traveling from Nairobi to Homa Bay on Lake Victoria when it drove off the road.

Traffic Commandant Samuel Kimaru told Standard Media in Kenya that the driver had crashed straight into the guardrail. "From our investigations, the driver did not even attempt to brake or negotiate the corner," Mr. Kimaru was quoted as saying. "He seemed to have slept." The driver was believed to be alive, and the authorities were trying to locate him.

Photographs from the scene of the accident showed that the top of the bus had been shorn off and was lying by the side of the road. Passenger seats in the base of the bus were wrenched and twisted around.

Francis Kimemia, secretary to the cabinet of Kenya, offered his condolences on his Twitter account. "Drivers and passengers alike should also have collective responsibility," he said. "If a passenger isn't happy with something," he added, "report, it's your life."

Writing in a column in The Daily Nation newspaper this month, the prominent journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo called for tighter regulation of buses.

"The problem is that the bus lobbies in the region are too powerful and politicians are either afraid of them, or are in their pockets," Mr. Onyango-Obbo wrote.

The headline of the article read: "If you didn't know, Kenya's most deadly hangman lives in a bus."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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