A cell phone app for training road safety skills to Kenyan motorcycle-taxi drivers

Commuters in developing countries often have few choices when it comes to safe travel. The combination of high fuel costs, scarcity of standard vehicles, and inadequate road networks lead to alternative means of transport, which are not necessarily the safest. An example of this is the sprouting of the motorcycle taxis or “Borda-Borda” in Kenyan’s urban and rural areas. Commuters are attracted to this “low-cost” travel. The Kenyan government has also supported the “Borda-Borda” movement as it indirectly helps reduce unemployment. Recent reports indicate that the growing motorcycle-taxi phenomenon is dangerous. Travelling on these taxis is risky as they are mostly driven by young men, not adequately trained or licensed to operate these motorcycle-taxis. Crashes can lead to severely incapacitating injuries for the taxi drivers and passengers. Kenyan experts agree that some part of the recent increase in the Kenyan road mortality is attributable to increased motorcycle use in the country.

Traffic enforcement can be an effective option to align “Borda-Borda” drivers with safety standards however, resources are often limited in low-income countries like Kenya to increase implementation of such initiatives beyond major cities. Therefore, innovative solutions are required to increase the adoption of safety practices. A Kenyan NGO El-Friezo is currently piloting an interactive cell phone application (app) to improve the road safety skills of Kenyan motorcycle-taxi drivers.

Link to website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/may/13/kenya-mobile-app-motorbike-roads

According the a NGO spokesperson, this app is an innovative training tool that uses a series of games to train drivers about motorcycle safety. It also includes exercises for providing first aid at a crash scene. These exercises were developed in collaboration with the Kenyan Red Cross. This initiative includes a built-in evaluation strategy as the app also collects data on road safety.  El-Friezo is counting on the current widespread use of cell phone in Kenya. Funded by the Grand Challenges CanadaTM and supported by the Keyan AirTel, the NGO has started recruiting 1,000 drivers in two Kenyan cities located in the Rift valley. El-Friezo is hoping that, in the near future, use of this app will play a significant part in driver training nationally and in other African countries facing the same problem.

Editor: In my opinion, the use of cell phone technology in road safety skill training is worth a shot though some colleagues may find this controversial as cell phone use while driving is associated with increased crash risks. Cell phones are fast becoming part of everyday life in the low-income countries. Proposing to use this technology in providing individualized road safety skill training is innovative and can be safe if adequately monitored. It is also nice that this project has captured the imagination of well-known international funding competition, the Grand Challenges (link to project: http://www.grandchallenges.ca/grantee-stars/0239-01/).

Acknowledgement: G. Tung.

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