If Twitter chatter is the barometer, then road accidents in Kenya has joined the premier league of critical public policy questions.
However, the proposed diagnosis or solution to what is undoubtedly a complex issue has been dismally underwhelming, simplistic and rushed – banning night travels without advancing any empirical evidence that most accidents occur at night.
Blame corrupt traffic police officers with little mention of drunk driving, which is a personal choice. Others blame defective road designs when a direct correlation between accidents and the new roads constructed by the Chinese hasn’t been established. Road accident preceded the arrival of the Chinese
But more than anything the debate reveals a systemic lack of finer understanding and nuances involved in “democratic “policy making process in Kenya. In the past, owing to a centralized decision-making process, there is a tendency to look for solution from the top, especially the executive.
Despite the new constitution and a fairly “technocrat” digital cabinet, there is limited evidence to suggest in the policy realm there has been a mind shift in tandem with the changed environment; policy making is largely held hostage by the same bureaucratic fiat from the top.
The problem is also compounded by a relatively small number of truly professional policy think tanks. The few that exist are either at the mercy of western donors with in their lock, stock and barrel agenda model where issues that are not “sexy” are hardly addressed, although, in all fairness, the biting austerity has also severely limited their flexibility.
In their place all manner of corporate do-gooders have emerged in line with their nebulous corporate responsibility obligations. Theirs is a business anchored in the bottom line; hence altruistic policy environment with no return on investment in the short term, despite the fact in the long run they will benefit too, is not their forte.
The media is fairly straightjacketed in their reporting, as such I have not come cross a long form reading investigative report on road accidents in Kenya, despite emergence of few investigative reports.
What gives; Michuki or the market?
With such a flux the reflex Inclination is to hanker back to the “good days” when Michuki took on the much-feared Matatu mafias, and came on top, albeit temporarily. While his method was undoubtedly successful and should be lauded, but it doesn’t provide a sustainable solution to road accident unless vehicle owner, drivers and the passengers are all brought on board.
In the motor vehicle industry the insurance companies are extremely powerful because they pick up the bill after an accident. Therefore, they should be allowed to play a greater role in reducing accident. The insurance companies should be asked to increase the premium paid by the vehicle owners. The owner’s will either pay the money or they will make the drivers pay, in either case, the incentive here is to increase the cost of causing accident.
Additionally, there should be a scheme to rank vehicles depending on the accident history in a publicly identifiable manner. This naming and shaming will shame the vehicles, and deincentivize accidents, and also provide the members of the public with information to make informed decisions.
There is a culture of underestimating drunk driving; I have nonchalantly been informed by a colleague, gari langu linajua njia ya kwenda nyumbani. Such attitude is cavalier to other road users, and should be penalized severly. Therefore, the government should penalize drunk drivers on a sliding scale with loss of driving license being the final stage. When public and private cars drivers understand they can lose their driving license chances are they can guard against drunk driving. However the downside is who will enforce this. Probably as an incentive the traffic officers involving in enforcing this should get a salary rise, which is not uncommon, police officers attached to the Central Bank tend to be compensated better than the rest. Or, their top up should be contingent on how many drunk drivers they can arrest.