Friend or foe? Gakuru’s death shines a spotlight on the guardrail paradox

November 7, 2017 7:05 pm
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The car on the left is the vehicle in which Gakuru was killed and the one on the right from another fatal road accident that happened on the Kikuyu bypass in September/CFM

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 7 – Concerns have emerged over safety standards of guardrails mounted on highways countrywide following increased road accidents blamed on them – the latest being the death of Nyeri Governor Wahome Gakuru on Tuesday morning.

According to police, the accident occurred when the governor’s vehicle veered off the road after a tyre burst and crashed into a guardrail at Kabati on the Thika – Murang’a highway.

Gakuru was in the car with his driver Samuel Kinyanjui Wanyaga, bodyguard Ahmed Abdi and personal assistant Albert Kaguru – who all survived but with serious injuries.

Police officers and medics who attended to them said the personal assistant’s right hand and leg were cut off and his wrist could not immediately be located at the scene of the grisly crash that was also blamed on a heavy downpour.

While guardrails are meant to save lives, it is worrying motorists that they are turning out to be killers on the highways, with police statistics available showing an increased trend of such accidents across the country.

Tuesday’s accident is similar to another one in September on the Southern bypass in Kikuyu where three people died when a guardrail ripped through a saloon car.

“The guardrails on our highways are poorly designed and outdated, and that is why they have claimed tens of lives, including that of Gakuru,” said Peter Murima who heads the Motorists Association of Kenya.

“At the start of a guardrail, there should be a bend instead.”

The association is already preparing a petition, demanding a thorough investigation into the safety of guardrails on all roads in the country, in a bid to adopt international safety standards.

Murima cited several fatal or serious road accidents blamed on guardrails – including in September when a lorry veered off the road and hit a guardrail which is said to have made it roll, leading to deaths of 10 people, in an accident that involved four vehicles.

“We are equally concerned about this trend. We have had several accidents involving guardrails and in the process, motorists have lost their lives,” he said.

“A guardrail should save a life, they should not kill.”

But Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) Director General Peter Mundinia insists that the guardrails on the Kenyan roads are accepted internationally.

“We should see this as an accident and not try to make news out of it,” he said but did not explain why they are contributing to higher fatalities.

Murima of the Motorists association disagrees with him and has demanded an investigation on the part of the civil engineering department at the Roads Ministry.

“This is unacceptable. How many people are we going to lose on the roads because of these rails,” Murima asked.

A senior traffic police officer told Capital FM News that there are several accidents linked or blamed on guardrails, but asked for more time to get the specific figures.

But Mundinia cautions that were it not for guardrails, all occupants inside Gakuru’s vehicle may have died.

“If the guardrail was not there, the vehicle would have plunged into a very deep valley and that could have claimed the lives of all occupants,” he said.

According to him, Gakuru’s vehicle had rammed on 11 polls, before a guardrail pierced through it.

About 80 metres of the guardrail was affected, he says.

– What we should have –

Murima proposes that we adopt a rolling barrier system or have concrete barriers, as is the case on Waiyaki Way.

The guardrail should deflect a vehicle back to the road, slow the vehicle down to a complete stop, or let it proceed past the guardrail.

In this case, it will not tear through a vehicle, he says.

– How a rolling guardrail works –

Typical guardrails composed of steel plates, as it has now been proven, cannot guarantee the safety of motorists.

Softer guardrails protect drivers from shock and provide opportunities to save more lives.

According to experts, the rolling barriers do more than absorbing impact energy.

They convert that impact energy into rotational energy to propel the vehicle forward rather than potentially breaking through an immovable barrier.

When a car hits the guardrail, the rotating barrel converts shock from the vehicle to rotational energy.

Upper and lower frames adjust tyres of large and small vehicles to prevent the steering system from a functional loss.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia did not want to dwell on the matter, “to give Kenyans time to mourn” but called on all motorists to exercise caution while driving.

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