NEW YORK: Malaysia has been successful in reducing the number of road crashes related to alcohol or drugs consumption because of the government’s political will in the past two years.
Transport minister Wee Ka Siong said this as the first speaker at the multi-stakeholder panel of the United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting (HLM) on road safety yesterday.
He said having such political will was a huge factor in helping to reduce road tragedies since the pandemic era started.
“There must be political will to address the issue (of road fatalities) very seriously,” he added.
Wee was one of the four members on the panel who discussed the topic “Incorporating road safety into sustainable development: political will and whole-of-government approach.”
The other panellists were Erias Lukwago Ssalongo, the mayor of Kampala, Uganda; Juan Jose Matari Saez, chairman of the Road Safety Commission of the Congress of Deputies, Spain; and Stewart Simonson, World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general and director-general’s Special Representative for UN Reform.
According to Wee, he applied the holistic measure of “3E” – enforcement, engineering and education – to reduce road crashes.
He said he started with “enforcement” soon after becoming transport minister in March 2020.
“In Malaysia, three or four years ago, there were many incidents, accidents involving drink driving especially those involving fatalities. That was very rampant and it happened even during the movement control orders (MCO) imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“So, in my first 100 days (as transport minister), I proposed to the Cabinet, and this was eventually endorsed by Parliament, to amend the law to make it mandatory for anyone driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and drugs to be given a mandatory jail sentence,” Wee said.
He added that previously, the penalty for the same offence was only a US$100 or US$200 fine, “which was insignificant to the offenders”.
“That is why after two years, I think it basically reduced the number of road accidents due to drink-driving,” Wee said.
Data provided by the police show that the number of road users involved in DUI crashes related to alcohol and drugs was 212 in 2020, 39 in 2019, 191 (2018), 212 (2017), and 461 (2016).
According to WHO, Malaysia has one of the lowest rates of road fatalities in the world caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.
A global road safety report from December 2018 shows that less than 1% of traffic-related deaths in Malaysia are linked to alcohol, far below the rate among other countries in the region.
Police data also showed that since 2014, DUI contributed to the lowest percentage of deaths from the total number of road fatalities with 2.89% in 2014, 3.41% (2015), 3.31% (2016), 0.86% (2017), and 0.85% (2018).
According to Bukit Aman, only 69 fatal road crashes were due to DUI since 2011, making it the lowest cause of road deaths between 2011 and July 2021.
Wee then briefly touched on the other two “Es” in tackling road safety under his watch.
“The second approach is engineering. I think we have to make our roads safer and we have to see the geometric design of the road. We need to pay more attention to this issue.
“The third is education and advocacy. I think it is important for us to educate or advocate proper traffic education among the younger generation, such as wearing helmets, the use of seat belts, the CRS (child restraining system),” Wee said.
He added that Malaysia was committed to implementing the 2022–2030 road safety plan to reduce road deaths by 50% by 2030.
Based on police statistics, it is estimated that over 158,000 people have been killed and more than 1.5 million injuries have been sustained from road crashes in Malaysia since 1995.
WHO reckons that road traffic crashes claim nearly 1.35 million lives worldwide annually and are the leading cause of death among children and young adults.
On Thursday, Malaysia adopted an 18-point political declaration at the UN HLM together with other global leaders to address the high number of road casualties worldwide.