By Dr Jacob George
The last time we made negative news internationally, away from corruption, kidnappings and the existence of alleged terrorist sympathisers in our midst, was when a study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found Malaysian roads were the 17th deadliest in the world.
But my contention is that the study was flawed as the data used was outdated. The study, using data from the World Health Organisation dated 2008, found that road accidents caused 30 deaths for every 100,000 people in Malaysia.
Basically it means that road accident fatalities account for 6% of all deaths in the country.
If one makes a comparison of road accident fatalities across the region, we may find that road accidents in Thailand cause 44 deaths per 100,000 people, making it the second most deadly country for road accidents.
Namibia topped the list with 45 deaths per 100,000 of the population.
In comparison, coronary heart disease made up 17% of total deaths in Malaysia, making it the number one killer in the country.
The other two main killers in Malaysia were cancer, which made up 15% of total deaths and stroke at 9%.
Despite these realities, the study showed that Malaysia had among the lowest overall fatality rates with 494 deaths per 100,000 people, and was placed 170th among the 193 countries surveyed.
How responsible are Malaysian road users?
Are Malaysian drivers taking responsibility for their own safety as more than 80% of traffic accidents were caused by human error according to investigations and surveys done by the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor (CASSA).
Furthermore, the deaths of 65,850 people in road accidents between 2004 and 2013 resulted in as much as RM78 billion lost in economic contributions with an average of RM1.2 million each.
Now this begs a pertinent question.
Who do we hold accountable for the road carnage we witness every day in Malaysia?
And what needs to be done to address this loss?
There is a perception of a dire lack of law enforcement despite hundreds of thousands of traffic summonses issued each year.
I am certain that the stakeholders and among them, the police and other relevant authorities are doing their part, but it is not enough.
Every road user and vehicle owner needs to abide by the law and safeguard his safety as well as that of other road users.
Instead of blaming others, road users should take it upon themselves to drive safely and be more considerate of other road users and attentive of their surroundings.
Stakeholders who operate and manage highways must play their part as they have a contractual duty to ensure that “pay and use highways” are free from all forms of danger.
But this is not always the case as retreaded tyre parts and other foreign objects that include nails, stones and pebbles are strewn along our highways and pose a serious danger to road users.
We also have heavy vehicles and trans-border coaches who throw caution to the wind by speeding, overloading their vehicles, and drivers who drive while under the influence of drugs.
We have accidents, we have fatalities. And every year we hear the authorities promising action and draconian changes that never materialise.
Will change come in 2017?
We already had 489,606 road accidents in 2015, compared to 476,196 in 2014.
In 2015, we were told there were 6,706 deaths through accidents, translating to roughly 18 deaths daily.
And is the silver bullet, the recently introduced traffic changes, speed cameras, cameras at traffic lights resulting in fines and demerit points the solution?
More than 90 countries have been using the Automated Enforcement System (AES) and other safety camera devises since the late 1970s.
In France the AES helped reduce the number of deaths due to road accidents by 27% within three years of its implementation.
In the United Kingdom, traffic violations decreased by 6% while in Kuwait, accidents decreased by 48%.
But speed doesn’t kill. Reckless driving does.
Of course for those in the industry and their pedlars, this is effective propaganda to make a sale. While I have absolutely no objection to the proposed installation of the AES cameras at accident prone areas and highways nationwide, we must address one pertinent question first.
Is the AES the silver bullet that reduces fatalities on our roads or is it yet another crony get-rich-quick scheme?
Are the cameras there firstly to give us a comprehensive look at and intelligence data about reckless drivers and their behaviour attitudes; and secondly to create a disciplined and “safety first” consciousness among Malaysian drivers of all tiers and; finally, to mould a responsible road user culture for the future?
Are the cameras a cash cow for stakeholders?
When the AES pilot project was implemented in Malaysia in 2012, our elected members of parliament raised may questions at a special sitting and briefing by the then Minister of Transport, which also dealt with several amendments to the “rather draconian” Road Transport Act.
I received a special invitation through the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBC) and was present to participate in that briefing.
In 2014, research conducted by Miros showed that the 14 AES cameras installed in Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya had proven effective in reducing road fatalities resulting from speeding and beating the red light.
The institute also revealed there was a 87.6% reduction in red light violations after the cameras were installed at Jalan Ipoh-Kuala Kangsar, Jalan Pasir Puteh in Perak, Jalan Klang Lama and Jalan Ipoh in Kuala Lumpur.
However, fast-forward to 2017 and road carnage is still present and road users are still irresponsible. My contention is that the cameras should only be installed if it is effective in addressing a specific concern.
The process of implementing the AES must only be carried out with a great deal of transparency, accountability, good governance, sensitivity, dedication and commitment.
The cameras should not be viewed as a cash cow, but as a strategy to help change the mindsets of Malaysian drivers and their handlers, which at its current state, leaves much to be desired.
Dr Jacob George is a theologian, corporate lawyer, social worker and president of the Consumers Association of Subang & Shah Alam, Selangor (CASSA).
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