Beating the red light must stop

IT has been a harrowing year so far with many lives lost on our roads. In some cases, entire families have been wiped out.

The word most often used by the media when reporting on these tragedies is "accident". Are they really all accidental?

The bad and irresponsible road manners of many a Malaysian road user have all too often been reported in the media or discussed at road safety forums but there is one that I am particularly aghast with.

It's the motorcyclists who beat the red light with impunity.

It's so rampant everywhere in the country and the fact that it's business as usual for so many of the two-wheelers strongly suggests that little action has been or is being taken to stop such a killer menace.

Otherwise, with the so-called Demerit Point System that the Road Transport Department (RTD) has put in place and that's been made more punitive recently, the menace would seem to abate but it has not. At many a road junction, it seems to get worse by the day.

During my active years as a journalist I travelled widely and I can conclude that there's only one country on planet Earth where motorcyclists, not everyone of course, habitually beats the red light – Malaysia.

Two weeks ago I was in Jakarta for several days and I made it a point to observe whether or not some of their motorcyclists embroiled in the city's notorious "macet" (traffic jams) are doing the same as their counterparts here. To their credit, they don't.

And mind you, Jakarta's day time population can reach as high as 15 million or half the number of Malaysians!

Some years earlier, during a visit to Hanoi I made the same observation and what struck me most was the discipline among their motorcyclists who ride their bikes so much slower than ours and within the permitted speed limit.

It would be most timely if some psychologists could conduct studies to find out what really goes on in the minds of otherwise mild-mannered Malaysians but who turn into "Mat Rempit" or daredevils while motorcycling.

The findings of such a study would certainly reveal some very interesting issues for society to act on.
Is it society's failure when so many utterly disregard traffic laws to begin with, let alone the other laws in our statute books?

I have alluded to this in a previous column and let me repeat that the biggest fear among some foreign diplomats who live here is not being mugged or becoming victims of any other crime but of being knocked down by a motorcyclist while crossing the road.

For example, one would certainly expect that it's safe to walk across a zebra crossing when the light turns red for vehicles to stop but lo and behold, one mustn't take this for granted in Malaysia.

A 58-year-old woman was knocked down by a speeding motorcyclist and killed in broad daylight while doing just this in George Town, Penang last week.

It was heart-wrenching to watch the 12-second video clip that went viral on this yet another man-made tragedy.

Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the loved ones that she left behind but it's not an accident when someone simply speeds and beats the red light and at a zebra crossing at that!

And on top of that she was the victim of a hit-and-run crash but thanks to CCTV cameras, the motorcyclist has since been charged in court.

Interviewed by reporters, while he was seeking treatment in hospital, he said that he had sped through the zebra crossing as he was rushing to work.

Wow! What kind of an excuse is this? It's like saying one is willing to do anything not to be late for work.

He faces between two and 10 years in jail besides fines if convicted.

We all must salute the woman's family who bear no grudge against the motorcyclist despite their terrible loss.

Her eldest son, in his eulogy at his mother's funeral, said: "Let this be a lesson to all motorists out there, to be aware of pedestrians' safety. What is important is that such a tragic incident should never happen again."

A very important person, whom I shall not name here, texted me the following message in expressing his grief over the woman's death: "The motorist who hit the pedestrian at the zebra crossing is a very sad case. Manifestation of what is not right in our society.

"I hope the Demerit Point System is not another initiative that will die a natural death."

The recently enhanced Demerit Point System to punish errant motorists should include greater surveillance or enforcement of motorcyclists beating the red light and other forms of reckless riding because we have far too many motorcycle deaths. The toll is certainly the highest if not among the highest in the world per population.

We need to be more strict, too, on underage boys riding the two-wheelers. Let's make our roads safer to use.