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Kill your speed or kill a child

November 1, 2012

Have we become so calculative with dollars and cents that we are skeptical of devices set up to save our lives on the road?

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By Elviza Michele Kamal

We were 17 and didn’t know any better. On that fateful Saturday evening I waited for Rai to pick me for some serious merrymaking. Rai was a girl we all loved to hate: she was faultless.

Blessed with the intellect of a genius, sharp attractive features, soft wavy hair and a smile that rivaled any of Colgate’s billboard models, Rai was a ray of sunshine for her family. Above all, to me, Rai knew how to be a friend whenever I was in need.

1992 was Rai’s year. She aced all the subjects in her SPM, passed her driving test and even got herself a new boyfriend. To top it all off, her parents had just surprised her with a brand new Honda Civic in the porch – for her sole use.

But my wait that Saturday had no end. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours and as twilight turned to night, I knew something was wrong. In the pre-handphone era, I lost count how many times I had dialed Rai’s home number. I fell asleep not knowing if tomorrow would come.

Rai died instantaneously; some said her death was painless.

In her rush to pick her boyfriend before making her way to my house, Rai was speeding at 130 kilometres an hour – at least. She lost control of the Honda; hit the concrete dividing barrier; and turned the vehicle over a few times around before an oncoming factory bus eventually crashed into her.

Checkmate.

The next few days were a blur of activities I can no longer recall in exact detail. But what still haunts me until today is the sound of Rai’s mother wailing in despair. The loss of her only daughter was so great; she was never the same woman again.

If only Rai had been educated on road safety; if only someone had drilled into her brilliant skull that speed killed; if only Automated Enforcement System (AES) had instilled the fear of God into her… we would now be taking our kids to play gym on weekends and complaining about our husbands.

However, I live in a nation with massively polarised political views. Let’s call a spade a spade: we all love to politicise everything. Everyone out there – especially the politicians – is set to get us and cheat our hard-earned money in the name of administration and tax.

All is good in the name of the overrated phrase of ‘we agree to disagree’. I have been following the intense debate on AES closely. But it was Kinabatangan MP Bung Mokhtar Radin’s statement that brought my simmering anger to boiling point.

He wanted AES to be postponed because it is too near to the general election. Yes, you heard me.

Setting the record straight

Please Kinabatangan, don’t forsake the safety of my family on the road to pave way for your ambitions in the election. You can keep your reservations about the AES where the sun doesn’t shine.

And Pokok Sena (Mahfuz Omar), please don’t hide behind your pseudo-Herculean effort of providing free legal service to those caught. You are a politician and I am a mother. How could we then ever speak the same lingo in so far as safety is concerned?

So my quest began.

I researched and read about AES until I became blue in the face from sleep-deprivation. I called the relevant authorities and companies. Some were gracious enough to feed me information I needed while the rest just slammed down the phone on me.

No matter, for I wanted to know better. Judgment must be formed on a correct axis and someone must set the record straight.

This article stands to be corrected from any angle, however, in the spirit of putting issue into perspective. I will cover only a few concerns arising from the AES.

Who’s making RM700 million?

The two companies managing the AES are not making RM700 million in the span of five years as insisted upon by the opposition.

AES is a private finance initiative (PFI) which sees the government not forking out a single cent to set up the system or guarantee any payment in exchange of services rendered by the two companies that had won the contract over nine other bidders.

At the end of five years, the government will fully own the system without having to reimburse the companies.

The profit return of the two companies is designed on a risk-reward mechanism as opposed to market norms and other government lopsided contracts.

But as the opposition clouds the public’s view on the issue of revenue of the companies alone, no one seems to care about how much money had been spent to implement the AES. Each of the AES camera costs RM240k per unit (excluding the cost for telecommunications, civil works, infrastructure, back office and depot costs).

Above all, if you are not speeding or beating red lights, not a single cent can be raised from the RM700 million projected revenue.

So why fret about it?

Camera at 30 kilometre per hour spots

Referring to the question as to why some of the AES locations are not within a “blackspot” area, JPJ had issued a statement prior to the launch of the first phase that these proposed locations will be updated from time to time, based on the findings of the JPJ’s AES technical committee. This is actually a non-issue.

Pemuda Umno Malaysia, too, has issued a statement questioning the need to place AES cameras at locations with a 30km/hour speed limit.

While the question is valid, the five proposed cameras at the 30km/hour zones have a greater spirit and reasoning behind it: these five spots are in close proximity to schools and hospitals.

This is actually in line with the findings of a non-profit company based in the UK known as Safer Roads. If you hit a child – who has smaller body surface area and lack the ability to make correct decision on road safety – at a speed of 40 miles per hour, you will kill the child.

Pleas

At the end of this tiring debate – when you take money and implementation out of the equation – safety remains priceless.

Road safety is a habit. If we don’t start now, we will lose another Rai everyday on our roads.

Have we become so calculative with dollars and cents that we are skeptical of devices set up to save our lives on the road?

Have we become a nation so jaded with every public policy that we fail to see what matters the most while driving are discipline and a sense of responsibility?

Have we become a nation so obsessed in fine-tuning implementation that we forget that life does not carry a price tag?

Have we become a nation so bereft of compassion that we put political interest ahead of a child’s safety on the road?

And how I wish the AES had been implemented 20 years ago, so I could still have Rai in my life; so Rai’s mother can still crack a smile on her face.

Speed kills. That is all there is to it.

Elviza is a lawyer on sabbatical leave; she is a mother first above everything else. She tweets at @elviza


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