With Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim set to announce his Cabinet, one of many things our new transport minister must review is the overall level of safety of our roads and expressways.
In recent times, road fatalities appear to have overtaken Covid-19 as the leading cause of death among Malaysians.
Several recent fatal road accidents, both along the North-South Expressway and other primary roads across the country, have exposed inherent dangers in our road design.
Two of those cases involved vehicles ramming into the back of lorries which had stopped along the emergency lane of an expressway.
The first involved a car with three family members, all of whom unfortunately died.
The second accident saw an express bus hit the back of a lorry which had stopped in an emergency lane, causing 16 people to sustain injuries, some of which turned out to be serious.
In another incident, a father and son died in the emergency lane of an expressway in Melaka while attending to a flat car tyre. They had been hit from behind by a lorry.
These are just some of the sad and unfortunate cases of road deaths we have seen recently. In just three days preceding my writing of this article, more than 10 people have died on our expressways.
Were these simply cases of misfortune or could their lives have been saved?
Operating under the transport ministry, the road transport department (JPJ) is the authority which examines and approves a vehicle’s dimensions, its weight and design. Without JPJ’s green light, no vehicle can take to the road.
That would mean JPJ is responsible for approving those odd-looking lorries with oversized items jutting out from their rear, usually announced by a small warning sign which reads, “Awas! Muatan Panjang” (Caution! Long load).
These vehicles may be common in Malaysia, but you are unlikely to see them anywhere else.
Our expressways and roads, on the other hand, including their junctions and flyovers, owe their design, dimensions and measurements to the works ministry.
Their construction is in accordance with standards and specifications set by the ministry through two agencies – the Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM), which is responsible for expressways, and the public works department (JKR), which has supervision of all other roads.
It seems, however, that these two ministries never talk to each other.
Otherwise, how do you explain the presence of 9.8ft wide vehicles (inclusive of their wing mirrors) on one-lane roads barely 10.6ft wide, and on two-lane expressways with a total width of 21.3ft?
Imagine two of these large lorries next to each other on a two-lane expressway. The gap between them would only be 1.3ft.
When one overtakes another, the small gap between them would inevitably pose a grave danger to both vehicles given their length and the strong draft and drift each vehicle puts out. These conditions can only get worse on rainy days.
The width requirement set by the works ministry is even smaller for emergency lanes – only 7.3ft – with no requirement for lay-bys on any of the expressways.
How does such a lorry fit into and stop safely on an emergency lane? It is bound to interfere with traffic plying the left lane of the expressway.
Clearly, oversized vehicles plying narrow lanes or stopping along narrow emergency lanes are road hazards which potentially cause accidents.
These accidents show that our roads and expressways are unsafe, both in terms of design standards and operation.
It may not have been noticeable when the expressways were new and traffic volume was low.
The traffic volume today, however, has increased substantially, making it harder to maintain the safe operation of our existing two-lane dual expressways.
Our new minister must recognise this shortcoming in our transport infrastructure and take immediate remedial steps to address the problem.
Much work will be required for our roads and expressways to meet the correct specifications and design standards.
Hopefully, the new minister will take steps to address the matter to save precious lives.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.