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African Motorcycle Taxis Hit Trouble

Poor quality helmets and lack of infrastructure have been blamed for a sharp rise in motorcycle casualties in some African countries. Road deaths across Africa have risen by 17% in the past decade, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, compared to a 5% average drop across the whole world.

The WHO puts this partly down to a general rise in motorised traffic in Africa, but particularly to the increase in small motorcycles used as taxis, the famous ‘boda boda,’ of East Africa. “About 10 years ago we saw a big increase in motorcycles in Kenya,” said Gladys Nyachieo of the Multimedia University of Kenya. “Very quickly we saw an increase in motorcycle-related accidents.”

Helmets are compulsory in both Kenya and Rwanda, but the law is sometimes not well enforced and motorcycle taxi riders tend to buy the cheapest helmets available, even reusing broken helmets after accidents, sometimes ‘repairing’ them with glue or tape. Better quality helmets are made in Kenya, but they cannot compete on price with imports from China or India, which are not DOT or ECE marked.

Transaid, a charity which provides driver training in Africa, has been helping taxi riders to buy decent helmets at discounted prices.

Jim Freeman, Chair of the BMF, said: “The increase in casualties is hardly surprising. Lots more bikes equals lot more accidents. I would suspect a galaxy of compounding factors, from rider education, general driving standards, the roads, and so on. I thought that there might be an accompanying rise in minibus casualties, where vehicle safety and driving standards were notorious. Are there rubbish helmets in these markets? Undoubtedly, I wouldn’t think Kenyan Trading Standards are much of a thing. As ever, ‘If you’ve got a cheap head, get a cheap helmet’.”

Written by Peter Henshaw

top image courtesy of Toby Madden/Transaid