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Kenyan media failing on road safety awareness

Date Posted : Monday, 15 Apr 2013

By Carolyne Gachacha Mucheru*

Every year, 3,000 people die on Kenyan roads. Most of these deaths are entirely preventable.

Financially, this toll translates into a cost conservatively estimated at $3.8 billion a year. This is according to a World Health Organization (WHO) article titled ‘Road traffic injuries in Kenya: the health burden and risk factors published in 2012’. (


The article notes that the cost of this carnage to the country, communities, and families is severe. Traffic injuries and fatalities in Kenya mostly affect men between the ages of 15 – 45, when they are most economically productive. Compounding this financial strain is the fact that in many instances, men are heads of households. Their absence can have long-term implications to the economic and social wellbeing of their families.


WHO’s Director General, Margaret Chan notes that globally, “road traffic crashes are a public health and development crisis.” Yet, the media rarely reports on traffic safety in a way that explores systemic causes or failures in policy or systems. According to an assessment by Internews very few stories are focused on bringing about change. This report also notes that there is little use of statistics leading to stories written in a neutral tone, and media stories are normally of little benefit in terms of public awareness on road safety issues.

Kenya is one of many countries in the world where poor road safety presents a massive drain on the country’s economy, as well as the lives of those impacted. WHO believes that if this trend is not halted by 2030, traffic injuries are expected to be the fifth largest cause of death globally. Already, 1.24 million people die every year on the world’s roads. These injuries and fatalities account for the biggest loss of life of young people in the world because they claim more lives of 5 – 14 year olds than malaria, diarrhea and HIV/AIDS combined.


Kenya is part of WHO’s global road safety campaign called the Decade of Action for Road Safety. It is one of 10 countries in the world identified as the worst affected by the road safety crisis. The other Road Safety 10 (RS10) countries are Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Vietnam.


“Kenya is working very hard in terms of road safety,” said Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director Department of violence, injury prevention and disability, “We are focusing mainly on speed and on helmet wearing in Thika and Naivasha. We believe that through some pilot projects we can show that speed reductions are possible, that improvement in helmet use is possible, and therefore lives can be saved.” A recent analysis of road safety injuries and fatalities in Kenya pinpointed that speed and neglected use of helmets by motor cyclists, as key to the problem. Thika District showed than nearly 70 percent of all vehicles counted were exceeding the speed limit by as much as 20 to 30 km/h. Matatus – a common mode of public transport – were the biggest culprits. This is cause for alarm, as it means that the public who rely on this means to get around are put at risk.


To address this problem, Parliament recently amended the Traffic Bill to enhance penalties for various traffic offences. However, experts believe that this is only one part of the solution. The private sector has partnered with the government to form the National Road Safety Trust, hoping to take the first steps in changing behavior related to road safety.


By framing traffic safety as a health story that affects everyone in the country, journalists have the opportunity to tell the story of road safety in Kenya in such a way that it can help shift policy and public reaction.

“Journalists play a key role in promoting road safety. They can advocate for political will to tackle the issues, as well as specific measures towards better laws, safer roads and more responsible behaviors”, said Dr. Krug.


NOTE: The Global status report on road safety 2013 serves as a baseline for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, declared by the UN General Assembly. The report presents information on road safety from 182 countries, accounting for almost 99% of the world’s population. It indicates that worldwide the total number of road traffic deaths remains unacceptably high at 1.24 million per year, legislation and enforcement are still inadequate, and pedestrians and cyclists need to be better protected.


The Second UN Global Road Safety Week to be held 6-12 May 2013 is dedicated to pedestrian safety. Requested by the UN General Assembly, the Week will draw attention to the urgent need to better protect pedestrians worldwide, generate action on the measures needed to do so, and contribute to achieving the goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 to save 5 million lives. Join the international community to ensure a fatality free Week and a significant and long-lasting contribution towards making walking safe for all.


* Carolyne Gachacha Mucheru is a radio journalist with over 10 years of experience in program production, news reporting and editing. Throughout her career she has covered a wide range of topics from health to human rights and science. Carole has participated in Internews trainings in the past, most recently she attended a science journalism training hosted by Internews Kenya.