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The tragic festival of accidents

 | August 21, 2012

The bodies continue to pile up on Malaysian roads and the Transport Ministry must move into high gear to address this issue.

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Celebrating amid madness seems to be an apt description in summing up the annual exodus of the Klang Valley’s floating population back to their hometowns (kampung) scattered all over the nation.

However to many, the maddening rush to rural villages and smaller hometowns is neither a respite nor a cure to their rat-race urban stress, work pressure and concentration and even monotony.

Last minute shopping, arranging transportation and the arduous short and long journeys back bumper to bumper driving can ruffle the feathers of even the most patient and considerate Malaysian.

Times have changed.

The number of vehicles on the road has grown hand in glove with the population. Tragically, so has the number of road accidents which coincide with the mad rush during major festival periods.

In 1980, a sensational caption popped up in a local daily screaming, “One person is killed every two minutes somewhere in the world today.” Our nation was not spared such senseless deaths either.

That year alone, there were 62,682 road accidents on Malaysian roads claiming 2,827 lives with 22,150 seriously injured. That ratio was about 8.48 Malaysians killed per 10,000 vehicles in West Malaysia alone.

What is the situation today? The picture is as grim as it was 32 years ago, if not worse.

Multi dimensional problem

Today, the concern is not just with the government authorities but has become the psyche of caring Malaysians during each major festival season prompting millions travelling on roads with high-tech electronic personal messages to each other via e-mail, Facebook and twitters reminding each other to drive with care.

This is another tragic and ugly scenario that the government’s efforts alone cannot resolve the high fatalities of road accidents especially during the festival exodus because it also involves all road users, owners of private vehicles, commercial drivers and not forgetting the motorcyclists.

The problem is to many experts a multi-dimensional one.

It is ultimately not just the sheer number of vehicles on the road network with more than 50,214.6km of paved roads (including 1,471.6 km of expressways) and 5,942km of unpaved roads, covering both state and federal roads throughout the country.

The population of 3.5 million vehicles in 1986, covering all types like private motorcars, motorcycles, buses, taxis and commercial lorries, trailers and vans, has grown to 7.7 million 10 years later.

Today, according to informed sources, the traffic flow along the North-South Expressway alone involves some 1.1 million vehicles. Last year, the number of total registered vehicles saw a phenomenal growth to 21.2 million.

In 2009, our nation ranked 49th in terms of 350 motor vehicles per 1,000 people compared to Thailand with 165 per 1,000, Singapore 156 per 1,000 and Philippines 33 per 1,000. Only Korea and Japan beat us with 379 per 1,000 and 589 per 1,000 respectively.

While experts studying the road carnage rightly pointed out that the factors increasing road fatalities are badly designed roads, faulty vehicles and reckless drivers, the yearly growing rate of road accidents resulting in deaths is not comforting.

There is no way to measure the sorrow and grief of those who lost their loved ones or the pain of the maimed. The economic consequences can be phenomenal amounting to billions of ringgit, the loss of potential income and professional human resources, and millions of medical outlay for the maimed.

Between 1992 and 1996, the Transport Ministry and relevant agencies spent RM40.922 million on road safety campaigns and in 1997, the government felt necessary to conduct a study on accident prone roads nationwide. A review was also conducted to study the effectiveness of the campaigns.

Human error, carelessness, reckless driving, ignoring traffic rules, inconsiderate and selfish driving behaviours and speeding were some pointers which caused 94% of the road fatalities.

In 1997, the “Ride Bright” campaign requiring motorcycles to switch on their lights had reduced  fatalities by a significant 29% due to greater visibility.

The figures are telling

Then transport minister Dr Ling Liong Sik in 1995 released a fact sheet on microcomputer accident analysis package. It disclosed that federal roads recorded the highest number of fatal accidents, i.e.
34.6% of the ases.

Drivers/riders within the age group of 26-30 year were the most common road users involved in road accidents (18.1%).

Almost 91.5% of road accidents occurred in uncontrolled areas. Another 7% happened at places controlled by traffic lights and 2% at places with other forms of traffic control such as policemen, yellow boxes and yellow bars.

The study also noted the highest number of accidents and fatal cases recorded were within 1601 hours to 1800 hours whereas the lowest rate was between 0401 to 0600 hours.

Careless driving was found to be the main cause of accidents which some 30,244 road users at fault under this offence.

Has this situation changed today? The current scenario according to many seems to be deteriorating in our driving culture and behaviour.

Last year, the one-week (Ops Sikap) recorded a total of 8,777 road accidents with 117 people killed (as at  August, 2011), an increase of 20% in fatalities of which 45% were motorcylcists.

How often do you see enforcement on the roads even during congested or peak hours with heavy traffic volumes?

In 2005, research by the road safety department revealed that 67% of drivers have bad driving habits. And the number is growing taking into consideration that out of more than 12 million registered vehicle drivers, some 500,000 new drivers are taking to the road yearly.

It is not comforting to note that the trend of bad driving and lack of road courtesy are deteriorating over the years. The figures are telling.

With a current population of some 28 million, road accident statistics disclosed that some 65,000 have died in any 10-year period or an average of 18 human lives are lost daily due to such road mishaps.

Weaving in and out of traffic, following too closely, turning or reversing without signalling in advance, eating, drinking and chatting on cell phones, beating traffic lights, abruptly cutting in front of vehicles (jumping queues), road hogging, impatiently and recklessly over-taking vehicles continue to haunt Malaysian drivers on the road.

Commercial and heavy vehicles also contribute their fair share to road accidents particularly stage buses for speeding, reckless drivers, bad maintenance resulting in faulty brakes, lights and signalling lights and bald tyres.

In recent years, new problems cropped up in the form of road rage, a police matter. If road bullies and aggressive driving manners are insufficient in aggravating matters, snatch thefts and robberies are frequent daily happenings.

Ministry must do more

Is the current MCA Transport Minister Kong Cho Ha performing effectively in tackling the growing problems facing the driving population? Besides legislating heavier penalties for some offences like beating traffic lights and a couple of televised campaigns, the ministry seems to be performing at a mediocre level.

Will the future be any better on Malaysian roads? The answer is unfortunately, unlikely.

The annual exodus back to celebrate the diverse new year cultural festivals will continue to be marred by these sickening symptoms of our road driving culture.

It is not comforting to note that the local municipal and city councils particularly in the Klang Valley are equally ineffective in tackling many of the problems facing the driving population. Lack of parking spaces in many commercial centres and townships have forced motorists to double or even triple park, causing inconvenience and disgust among more considerate road users.

Faulty or broken down parking meters are not replaced or repaired.

It is high time, the Transport Ministry provide the public with a fact sheet of motor vehicle  accidents and fatalities.

Enforcement against errant drivers of commercial vehicles seems sadly lacking.

A wise man once said that there are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth, not getting all the way and not starting. That seems to sum up the performance of the current Transport Ministry.

Stanley Koh is a FMT columnist.


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