The furore over the prosecution of the motorist involved in the “basikal lajak” case has finally subsided and media focus is shifting to the mental health of young children.
But the problem of children dying in road accidents, and of lorry and car drivers being endangered, is not just a road traffic issue. It’s about poverty and education besides others.
Subsequent to the “basikal lajak” case, there have been viral videos of children lying on top of divider lines on a lonely road at night.
It looked like a game of chicken, with a youngster’s voice in the background calling to the children not to chicken out when an approaching car’s headlights shine on them. It appears that there was another youngster who unleashed a catapult at the approaching car. He seems to have scored a hit because there’s a shout of approval from other voices in the background.
Many of us are still wrestling with the deaths of the eight teenagers in the “basikal lajak” incident in Johor Bahru. It is very hard to justify the politicisation of their deaths rather than the case being analysed to prevent further tragedies.
Of course the other tragedy is that motorists might now have to buy more insurance for protection against lawsuits funded by politicians who exploit divide and rule tactics to gain votes.
Going forward, what can we learn so that we can, over time, minimise such tragedies? This is important because there are even more “Mat Lajaks” in the hilly areas of the Klang Valley: think Sungai Buloh and Sungai Pelong among many others.
There are mainly four stakeholders who have a role to play in this issue:
The transport minister has a duty to enforce the Road Transport Act which states that riders of bicycles and electrical bicyclists are subject to the offence of reckless driving and causing danger to the public.
The minister should prioritise the safety of children and organise a systematic enforcement campaign in a consistent long-term programme so that we get the children to recognise road safety rules without criminalising them.
As a national leader and as a parent himself, he should prioritise national interests above politics of race and religion. Children’s safety shouldn’t be sacrificed for politics.
The second stakeholder is the ministry for family and community development. Many of us wondered what sort of parent and family would allow children under the age of 18 to be out until the early hours of the morning.
Many English language readers might not be aware of poverty in B40 (low-income) families, or of the large proportion of single parent mothers trying to bring up children who have been abandoned by wayward fathers.
I’m sure we would have appreciated some updates from the social welfare department about what caused the parental neglect in the “basikal lajak” case. If poverty was the cause, why aren’t we highlighting it and doing something?
What about the local government and housing ministry? The Mat Lajak phenomenon occurs in kampungs and sub-urban settings where there are nice slopes for downhill racing.
One of the problems is that open spaces for public use are at a premium. This is a challenge where idealistic town planners can push for happier compromises.
The police should, or obviously do, know about Mat Lajaks and the location of their activities. The Road Transport Act empowers them to enforce the law against the irresponsible use of public roads.
But they should also use the soft approach and work with the surau and masjid communities. Engage with the penghulu and the community to manage the dare-to-die needs of the young speedsters.
For a more practical approach perhaps some of the following might help.
Motorists driving on highways at night should seek to convoy loosely with other drivers who are maintaining the same speed. This would reduce the fear caused by a few of the Mat Rempit motorcyclist groups. Anyway, most of them are just riding for fun and don’t necessarily want to cause trouble.
Going by the “basikal lajak” case in Johor, which happened in the dead of night, perhaps it might be safer to avoid the slow left lane and stick to the fast lane or middle lane while making way for overtaking traffic.
A coin-sized gadget called the CSE-microtag is useful for SOS and emergency situations. If unanswered for 15 seconds, it will send the crash location and phone number to the control room, after which the command centre will call your smartphone.
More importantly, you can press the SOS button on the device and the command centre will call your smartphone with your location already flashing on the command centre’s screens.
This Malaysian-made device is available on a yearly subscription or for free from two insurance companies.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.