Rules of the Road: Traffic Mortality in Kenya

+ Brandon Fuller

Kenya has an estimated 34.4 road deaths for every 100,000 people, the 16th highest traffic mortality rate in the world. The Guardian recently reported on tough new proposals to crack down on reckless driving:

The [traffic bill] proposes life sentences for motorists who cause death by dangerous driving. It also calls for a jail term of up to 10 years, or a fine of up to 1m shillings (£7,600), or both, for anyone found drink-driving.

Drivers found speeding could be jailed for three months, pay a 20,000 shilling fine, or both. Drivers who overlap on pavements, or go through petrol stations to avoid traffic jams, could face three months in jail, a fine of 30,000 shillings, or both.

But it’s not clear that the stiffer penalties would be backed up with effective enforcement. Corruption among the traffic police makes it hard enough for Kenya to enforce existing traffic laws, let alone tougher new measures.

Elijah Muli of the Kenya Red Cross Society recognizes that changing the formal rules about traffic won’t be enough. His organization is working to change the norms about driving and road safety, in part with social media campaigns.

Kenyans are tweeting about accidents they witness, advising caution, and outing drivers who drive dangerously, using the TwitterBigStick hashtag.

Some reformers are also eager to take a page from Georgia’s policy playbook — dismissing the corruption-riddled traffic police altogether and replacing it with a new force.

Advocating for tougher formal laws makes for good legislative theater but without effective enforcement or support from underlying social norms, tougher formal laws will be next to useless. In the near term, the efforts to clean up the traffic police and shift driving norms offer better bets for improving road safety in Kenya.

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