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Up to 13,000 road fatalities a year in Kenya, report says
Hardware startup modify hi-vis jackets to make motorcycle riders safer on streets
"We are expecting to bring sanity onto our roads," says co-founder
On the bustling streets of Nairobi, hundreds of motorcyclists are weaving in and out of the already congested traffic. Without fear of incident, countless drivers put themselves at risk every day on these gridlocked roads.
Up to 13,000 people die in traffic accidents on Kenyan roads annually, according to a report from the World Health Organisation. But two brothers, Charles and Joseph Muchene, are hoping to stem the number of fatalities with their wearable tech venture, CladLight.
Launched last April, the sibling startup aims to make motorcycle riders more visible. Their first product is dubbed the “Smart Jacket,” a reflector vest fitted with LED lights, a rechargeable battery and transmitters. The jacket uses wireless technology to connect an on board transmitter mounted on the motorcycle. This allows it to detect and reflect in real time the rider’s movements at traffic lights and turnings.
“We put lights on that vest and the lights are controlled remotely so they indicate clearly the intents to turn right, left or break when you are riding your motorcycle,” says Charles Muchene.
“We are expecting to bring sanity onto our roads,” he continues. “And we are hopeful that we will have a reduction of accidents that are happening,” adds Muchene. “If measures are not taken, we are going to have even double the number [of fatalities on the roads].”
Bright Oywaya, the executive director of the Association for Safe International Road Travel, says the main causes for the high number of accidents are speed, drink driving and law enforcement.
“Also, lack of infrastructure because the roads do not cater for the different users,” continues Oywaya, whose passion for road safety began following a 1997 road accident that left her paraplegic.
“There are no crossroads anywhere and so actually 47% of the deaths are actually pedestrians, according to the last report I saw by the police.”
Muchene agrees that drivers are the root of the problem. The young entrepreneur says it’s a common tradition to gift high school graduates a motorcycle upon completion of their education – but adds that that very few riders enroll in driving school to learn Kenya’s road rules.
“There are so many motorcyclists that are everywhere,” he says. “It is very high risk. Most of them are reckless drivers.”
Meanwhile, government authorities and local road safety bodies are also working to tackle the escalating problem. Since last year, officials have stepped up efforts to crack down on road rule-breakers, setting up checkpoints to ensure drivers have licenses and are wearing helmets and high-visibility jackets.
With high-visibility jackets mandatory by law, the Muchene brothers are hoping to work with motorcycle manufacturers to infiltrate the marketplace with their product.
“We are sourcing partnerships with motorcycle assembly plants in the country so once you buy the motorcycle you are given the jacket for free,” says Muchene.
“Once we see that there’s a good number of guys having the jackets, and it’s having the impact that we intended to have that is the reduction of motorcycle accidents due to poor visibility, we’ll venture into other markets,” he continues, revealing the startup’s future plans to expand its operations beyond Kenya.
“As we go along,” he continues, “we will come up with better products and more innovative solutions to address challenges in our society through wearable technology.”