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Kenya mulls electronic driving licenses

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 22 – The government is set to issue second generation driving licenses before the end of this year, Transport Minister Chirau Mwakwere has said.

He disclosed on Wednesday that they had contracted a Belgian firm, M/S Semlex Europe S.A, to produce the new driving licenses.

“They will be biometric; you can’t produce them in down town Nairobi or any other part of the country. They will be read at any point (on the road). A police officer will ask one to place his index finger at a certain point on a small gadget and immediately the photo (of the driver) will appear,” the minister explained.

The card, which will even include the driver’s blood group type will help root out fake licenses and eventually reduce road accidents.

“The mobile device (that the traffic officer will be carrying) will be able to store limited data and will validate the authenticity of the card and he will be able to record offences and print the driver’s (traffic) violations instantly,” he added.

M/S Semlex will operate a Build-Operate and Transfer Arrangement (BOT) and manage the system in conjunction with the Kenya Revenue Authority for five years while the government will initially be required to provide adequate security for the company.

The decision to introduce new licenses, the minister said, was informed by the high rate of accidents that have been occurring on Kenyan roads over the last few years.

According to the minister, of the 13,000 accidents that occurred last year, 70 percent of them were caused by people without valid licenses. In the same period, 2,600 people lost their lives in road carnage with the majority being in the 15 to 35 age bracket.

But while absolving his ministry from blame, Mr Mwakwere said it is the onus of every Kenyan driver to be responsible and observe all traffic rules in order to avoid this disaster.

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Many people have questioned why Mr Mwakwere has not been able to clamp down on errant drivers, un-roadworthy vehicles and over speeding -which are some of the factors leading to the high rate of accidents- like his predecessor John Michuki did. The implementation of the ‘Michuki rules’ has since been disregarded.

“Most of these deaths and accidents are caused by careless driving, irresponsible and drunken driving. It has become a culture in Kenyans to defeat the law and this is a shame,” Mr Mwakwere said while defending the country’s traffic regulations.

“They (laws) are not very different from what they have in Britain where they have more than 10 times the number of vehicles we have here and they have a smaller rate of accidents. This is because people there take regulations seriously,” he pointed out.

His remarks came hours after another accident claimed the lives of 21 people in Narok early Wednesday.

Mr Mwakwere also rang the warning bell saying that should motorists fail to be careful, deaths from road carnage will surpass those resulting from HIV/AIDS and Malaria in the next 15 years.

“If accidents and loss of life on the roads increase at the rate they are increasing now there will be more people dying (on the road) than those dying from these diseases so it’s up to Kenyans to take this issue seriously,” he cautioned.

He however exuded confidence that the Integrated Transport National Policy which they were preparing and which will outline safety measures for cyclists and other road users and public awareness programs would go a long way in curbing these incidents.

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