, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 25 – Peter Kimani’s (not his real name) trail bike was running smoothly when suddenly he saw a car crossing his lane. The next thing he saw was the roof of a house as he was catapulted into the air. He landed on his head and shoulder. A crack in the middle of his helmet revealed the severity of the crash. He survived the accident, but he broke his leg and has to live with a permanent limp.
Kimani’s accident was not unique. Many people are often hospitalised after motorcycle accidents. Many others are crippled for life. Of these, more than 70 percent are youths between the ages of 16 and 24.
How do these figures compare with automobile accident statistics? Insurance companies claim that for the same distance travelled, the death rate for motorcyclists is about nine times higher than that for persons riding in a car.
According to the Motorcycle Association of Kenya (MAK), this huge fatality rate stems from the fact that a motorcycle is less visible than a car.
Benson Gachoka who is the MAK chairman further says that in addition to the difficulty of handling a motorcycle, it offers little or no protection for its rider.
“Motorcycle handling is tricky, if it skids, it often spills. No wonder that many people feel that motorcycles are dangerous,” he says.
Despite the fact that many people use motorcycles as a preferred mode of transport, Mr Gachoka says that it is wrong to use them as a public mode of transportation.
He says that due to the lack of safety of motorcycles riders, many insurance companies are not willing to provide insurance.
The MAK chairman points out that their liability rates are low because a motorcycle does very little damage to someone else.
He however states that collision rates are high because of the numerous accidents.
“Uninsured motorists’ rates are two and a half times higher and medical payments insurance is nonexistent,” he says.
He adds:“The way that rates are set should tell you that motorcycles are dangerous to the rider. The motorcycle does have its advantages like everything else; but safety is not one of them for the rider.”
With the emergent boom of motorcycle boda bodas in major urban centres in the country, concerns over their safety is a matter requiring urgent attention.
Stakeholders in the industry are of the opinion that this enterprise has got a great potential and contributes towards easing the transport glitches in urban areas.
Mr Gachoka however states that it is illegal to use motorcycles to do business saying that its cons are greater than its pros.
“It is wrong to transport anybody on a motorcycle and we as an association are dissuading our members about that because insurance companies have not actually accepted to insure passengers and motorcycles,” he says.
“Even the riders themselves do not have a cover. What is covered is the third party and the motorcycle itself.”
Many motorists in Kenya normally treat motorcycle riders as a nuisance mainly due to them paying no heed to the laid down traffic regulations.
Mr Gachoka is appealing to other motorists to show consideration to motorcycle operators saying that accidents can be traumatising.
“I would like to ask people driving vehicles to treat motorcyclists humanely. In many instances, if he or she falls down, it is the body which falls down and this can cause dangerous injuries,” he states.
“In case of an accident, stop and pick the person and do whatever you can to transport them to the hospital.”
He is also urging motorcycle owners to adhere strictly to traffic regulations as this would reduce accidents.
“We advice the riders themselves to treat the motorcycle like a vehicle following another vehicle in front of it and only pass the vehicle in front when you are overtaking and then go back on the road,” he cautions.
At the moment, you can see motorcyclists riding parallel to a vehicle. This is dangerous because you could be on a blind corner,” he points out.
True, as a means of economical transportation, the motorcycle is hard to surpass. Fuel economy is its hallmark. With a medium-sized motorcycle, you can ride 25 to 30 kilometres on one litre of fuel. Additionally, it has only two tires.
Other advantages are that it is easy to maneuver, has no parking problems, and a price tag far lower than that of an automobile.
However, even some who could afford to drive an expensive automobile still prefer the motorcycle their main appeal being the thrill that comes with riding one.
“It may be their sound,” says one motorcycle enthusiast. “The rumbles of an English twin, the howl of a Japanese multi-two-stroke, or the purr of a multicylinder four-stroke, all are like music to the ears.”
For other motorcyclists, it is the sense of freedom and feeling of control.
Another motorcyclist says, “It’s exciting to feel that machine beneath you, to know that it will answer to your every whim or direction, to lean into curves and know that it will carry you to your destination reliably.”
This mixture of sound, speed, and freedom may sound appealing, but there is a danger. This thrill may become an addiction.
Young people are especially in danger.
Capital News sought the views of a few of them:
“You feel scared when you see a sharp bend,” says Peter Omindo, “but the thrill of clearing the bend at high speed without skidding leaves you excited. I used to search for ever sharper bends and take them at higher speeds.”
He adds: “I used to ride come rain or shine, because it made me high. To me it was like a drug.”
Mr Kimani who was mentioned at the onset says, “I didn’t care whether it would kill me or not, I had to ride.”
So even before the cast was removed from his broken leg, he was riding again.
He admits that he was hooked.
The MAK chairman says that one should weigh these aspects of appeal and safety against each other when you consider riding a motorcycle.
He points out that if one is bent on getting a motorcycle, things to consider include how he or she will handle it and what type of machine one chooses.
He states that a sound mind is needed for one to ride a motorcycle.
He however cautions not let passion for speed and power overcome their better judgment.
Indeed as has been observed in many instances, the motorcycle can be an efficient means of transportation, but it must at all times be used carefully and with respect.