Road accidents claim up to 3000 lives annually in Kenya according to statistics by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), and many of these road accidents can be prevented by simply adhering to traffic rules.

Many of these accidents involve public service vehicles, which account for up to 80 percent of the lives lost through accidents.

Echo Mobile, a Nairobi-based technology firm, is seeking to confront this problem through a mobile app dubbed 'Smart Matatu', which is designed to enhance the passengers' involvement in safety measures in order to curb misconduct by matatu drivers.

The mobile app was developed at the University of California Berkeley in collaboration with the University of Nairobi, and is currently undergoing a pilot on the Rongai and Kibera matatu routes, which have seen quite a number of incidents, including one where four people lost their lives and six were injured in September of 2016.

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from the cooperative societies (SACCOs) that the matatu owners belong to. The app includes a feature where the owners are able to monitor the operations of their vehicles remotely.

It is able to record when the vehicles are switched on or off, therefore enabling the owners to know when the drivers start and complete their shifts.

The app gives instant and automatic feedback to the SACCOs, and the drivers receive updates on the importance of adhering to road safety rules.

One of the outcomes from this is that passengers can give feedback to the people who own the vehicles without the need for an intermediary, meaning that errant drivers can be reprimanded.

James Lang'at, a field officer at Echo Mobile, explains that the use of the Smart Matatu app prompts drivers to be more conscious of misconduct and dangerous driving, as they are aware their actions are being monitored.

By introducing the reporting element through this app, passengers can actively ensure that they are driven safely, and hopefully, this will help in reducing road carnage overall.

How the Smart Matatu app works

Smart Matatu App

The Smart Matatu app can be downloaded from the Play Store, and users are then required to obtain a sensor from Echo Mobile which is then installed in their vehicles. The sensor communicates to the app and supplies it with relevant information about the safety of vehicles on the road.

Owners can also access this data on their smartphones, receiving real-time alerts on major safety events such as when vehicles are speeding, deviating from the normal route, overlapping or making potentially dangerous sharp turns.

The target users of the app are individuals or co-operative societies that own matatus operating on the selected routes.

Apart from monitoring the safety measures employed by drivers, the Smart Matatu app can also be used to rate matatu drivers’ performance based on adherence to traffic rules and also to determine the exact location of the vehicle, helping to enhance efficiency by monitoring unscrupulous drivers who doctor figures so as to make more money.

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