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African apps target road fatalities

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African apps target road fatalities

The World Health Organisation puts road accidents as the third highest cause of death in Sub-Saharan Africa. In East Africa, where motorcycle taxi (boda boda) fatalities are high, unique solutions to ease the problem are taking root – innovative mobile apps. 

IRwanda, the Kigali City Council estimates that 80% of traffic accidents involve motorcycle taxis.

In Uganda motorcycle taxis are involved in 73% of accidents, which cost the Ugandan government an estimated 2.9% of its GDP. In Kenya, there were an estimated 546 motorcycle accident victims between January and June this year according to the Kenya Police Traffic Department and the National Transport and Safety Authority.

Motorcycle accidents are indeed a serious problem in the region. But some startups in the three countries are trying to address the issue through innovative tech solutions.

SafeBoda app

Uganda’s SafeBoda is one such solution. Unarguably, the roads and traffic situation in Uganda are not only perilous, but at least 20% of all boda boda accident victims suffer cranial trauma, with half of these patients dying from their injuries. SafeBoda is an Uber-style mobile application, that allows users to arrange transport via their mobile phones, but the startup has a serious safety aspect added to it.

“SafeBoda rigorously selects, trains, and provides safety equipment to the young workforce of motorcycle taxi drivers. In addition, SafeBoda brings a unique combination of smart branding and mobile technology to mitigate the connectivity problem between drivers and passengers,” explains SafeBoda co-founder Alastair Sussock. The WHO estimates wearing a quality helmet reduces the risk of death for motorcycle drivers by 40%, and the risk of severe injury by 70%.

“Based on our calculations, an estimated 800,000 unsafe trips are taken daily,” says Sussock as he explains that the solution is not as simple as supplying helmets because even with 71% of boda boda riders in Uganda owning a helmet, only perhaps 30% of the drivers and less than 1% of passengers actually wear them. But SafeBoda makes it compulsory for all its drivers to wear helmets, which means passengers know they are getting a service they can trust.

“In a chaotic and unsafe motorcycle taxi market, with many anonymous drivers, it is difficult for safe operators to credibly signal to potential passengers that they are, in fact, safe and trusted drivers,” he says. It is still early days for SafeBoda, which has 100 drivers and over 1,500 customers per day, but Sussock believes growth is such that the concept will be a success. However, the safety aspect of the platform is still relatively manual.

Measuring driver habits

Not far away, in Rwanda, another motorcycle taxi-hailing startup is going even more hi-tech to combat safety issues.

SafeMotos, on the face of it, is much the same as SmartBoda, an app in the Uber style that allows customers to connect with drivers at the click of a button. But its safety protection is more automated than that of SmartBoda, with the company having learnt lessons from the vehicle telematics applied by insurance companies elsewhere in the world to “take the gamble out of selecting a motorcycle taxi”.

“Our drivers have smartphones which have GPS and accelerometer sensors, which lets SafeMotos measure the driving habits of each of our drivers. We will know if they have excessive speed and dangerous braking,” says co-founder Barrett Nash. Bad drivers are pushed to the outskirts, finding it harder to get fares, giving customers the confidence they are being connected with only the safest drivers on the SafeMotos platform.

SafeMotos is targeting handling 7,000 rides per month by the end of the summer, and hopes to have 400 drivers on board by the end of the year. It is using Rwanda as a “test kitchen” as it puts in place plans to eventually expand to a number of other African markets.

“Currently, the market for ridesharing applications [influenced by] the Uber model is heating up across Africa. However, no other company is localising this model to take into account the unique challenges and dangers of the motorcycle taxi market in a manner that can be scalable across the continent,” Nash says. In Kenya, local company CladLight is combining the equipment focus of SafeBodas with the technological innovation of SafeMotos, and will soon roll out its Smart Jacket product into the market, aiming to improve road safety through wearable technology.

CladLight’s Smart Jacket, which has just completed its piloting stage, is equipped with signal transmitters which display the direction in which a driver intends to turn on the back of the jacket when the bike’s indicators are used.

It also has a GPS tracker to allow owners to determine the vehicle’s location. The jackets are set for manufacture and entry into the market by the end of the year.

“CladLight ensures that the motorcyclists are visible on the roads by providing them with special safety vests that have bright lights at the back,” says chief executive officer Charles Muchene. “The lights clearly show other motorists the intention of the rider to turn left, right or to brake, as controlled by the rider. The elevated amber lights for turning and red for brake indication are easily recognised by other road users.”

Muchene says CladLight has adapted its jacket to suit all weather conditions and any motorcycles, with the startup planning on selling them in bulk through partnerships with bike retailers and insurance firms.

“There needs to be no ambient light to see the motorcyclist as the vest acts as its own source light. As CladLight we are the first technology company in the African region to provide a solution to our local social problems using wearable technology. We have a patent on the innovation and hope to export it to emerging markets around the world,” Muchene said.

The startup scenes in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya are burgeoning, with companies tackling issues in sectors such as education, health and financial services and now, with the magnitude of the problem, these start-ups  are increasingly turning their attention to road accidents. Rightly so. NA

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