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Number of Fatal Motorcycle Crashes in Kenya on the Rise

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Motorcycles are an increasingly popular—and dangerous—mode of transport throughout Kenya. Image by Beatrice Obwocha. Kenya 2015.

Leonard Onyango has been using a bodaboda—a small motorcycle—to transport passengers for the last five years, and since he joined the trade, he has been involved in three crashes.

He says he sustained a serious eye injury in one of the crashes, hurt his knee in another and escaped with minor bruises in the third.

Onyango is lucky to have survived the crashes, with reports indicating that the number of fatal motorcycle crashes in Kenya is rising by the day.

The death toll has skyrocketed over the last decade from a low of 44 in 2005 to more than 600 in 2013.

Data from Kenya’s National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) shows that in 2005 motorcyclists and pillion passengers made up 6 percent of traffic road accidents deaths but the number had increased almost three-fold to 22 percent in 2014.

Motorcycles are a popular mode of transport in most parts of Kenya. They are preferred in rural areas as they are not only affordable but also ply routes that are not accessible by other vehicles. In crowded urban areas, they are the best way to beat traffic jams.

The number of registered motorcycles rose from 6,250 in 2006 to 111,124 in 2014. They now account for 51 percent of the total number of motor vehicles on the road, according to NTSA statistics.

NTSA Director General Francis Meja says several issues contribute to the rise in traffic deaths by the two-wheelers.

The main cause, he said, is failure of drivers to obey traffic rules.

"They jump lights, driven at high speed, overtake from the wrong side and carry more than the required number of passengers. This is impunity and general lack of discipline," Meja told The Nation in an interview.

He said most of the drivers do not go for driving lessons and most of them do not know or follow traffic rules.

Another contributing factor is the large number of motorcyclists who ignore Kenya’s helmet law or who wear substandard helmets.

The WHO’s 2015 road safety report says that that wearing a good quality helmet can reduce the risk of death by 40 percent and the risk of serious injuries by 70 percent. The report also notes that most motorcycle deaths are as a result of head injuries.

Onyango, the bodaboda driver, has a scar on his left eyelid from his most recent crash in June last year.

He told The Nation that he was wearing a helmet when he collided with a man riding a bicycle.

“I was cut on the eye and the helmet broke when I fell on the road. The bicycle rider was injured on the forehead,” he said.

He said he was rushed to South B Hospital where he was stitched up and discharged.

According to the NTSA’s Meja, the majority of motorcyclists in Kenya use helmets that do not meet the set standards by Kenya Bureau of Statistics, putting their lives and that of their passengers at risk.

Several motorcyclists interviewed by the Nation said they were not aware that they need to have helmets that meet a certain standard.

“To me a helmet is a helmet. I am not aware that there is one that am supposed to buy because it meets certain standards,” said Onyango.

Kenya does have a national helmet law that applies to both driver and passenger, but according to the WHO’s most recent road safety report, the law is largely ignored and rarely enforced.

The NTSA, the agency responsible for enforcement, says it does not have enough manpower to crack down on motorcyclists.

A new report released by the International Motorcycle Manufactures Association points to human error as the major cause of road crashes worldwide.

"Human factor is of critical importance to any efforts to improve road safety for powered two wheeler riders," the report says.

Onyango blames human error for the second of his three crashes.

“I had approached Diamond Park 1 Estate when a motorist turned to enter the estate without indicating. I rammed onto the driver’s side and fell into a ditch,” he recalls.

He says he was lucky to escape with minor bruises and opted to settle the matter with the motorist without involving the police.

In a third incident involving a crash with a vehicle, Onyango hurt his knee, which he claims still bothers him.