Traffic rules save lives

THERE have been many accidents on our roads, some of which were fatal. Speed is the primary factor in most of these accidents.

Many would have read about marathon runner Evelyn Ang, who has been in a coma since last December.

She was hit by a car while taking part in the Klang City International Marathon, an event during which she should have been protected from traffic. Sadly, her family and friends have been told to say their final goodbyes.

There is another recent case of the death of a security guard in Bandar Puchong Jaya. He was knocked down by a car while riding a motorcycle near where he worked.

As a result of this fatal collision, the residents of the condominium where the guard worked wanted the authorities to build speed bumps, install blinking lights and paint a yellow box in front of their buildings.

Speed bumps or speed humps are traffic calming measures designed to encourage safe driving. They are used to slow down motorists in busy or residential areas where vehicles tend to speed during off-peak hours.

They are also common in car parks, shopping complexes and on university campuses. While speed bumps and humps are common throughout the world, their use here also indicates an aspect of what is wrong with our cities in Malaysia: motorists' non-compliance with municipal rules, coupled with knee-jerk responses by the authorities. Many drivers do not comply with road signs, and authorities see devices such as speed bumps as the quickest and most visible to show their action.

There is a difference between speed bumps and speed humps. Speed bumps have a shorter travel distance, creating bigger and more sudden jolt, causing the driver to slow to a near stop to pass over them safely and comfortably. They are meant for places where speed is supposed to be very slow, and pedestrians and cars share space closely. Speed humps are a less aggressive traffic calming option, allowing slightly higher speeds.

Road bumps or humps are added to level and smooth roads with the purpose of forcing motorists to drive slowly. In reality, they turn good, smooth and even roads into obstacle courses. They make driving frustrating, even for safe and law-abiding drivers. Many of them are so badly designed and built that no matter how slow, one experiences a severe bump when driving over them.

Road bumps and humps are built because authorities feel that they are the only effective mechanisms to prevent motorists from treating roads in residential areas like the Sepang F1 racetrack. Indeed, in many cases, residents request for them to be built in their neighbourhoods.

There is, of course, a less disruptive and arguably more civilised way of telling drivers to drive slowly. It is by putting signs like "35kph", "kurangkan laju" or visible pedestrian crossings. Unfortunately, despite passing stringent driving tests, many motorists do not bother to comply with road signs. As a result, the local authorities have to build these obstacles to reduce their speeds.

Speed bumps are not the only physical barriers built to ensure compliance with rules. Some local authorities build curbs that are more than 25cm high in order to prevent drivers from parking their vehicles on them. Another common feature are the red and white steel poles placed at and near road junctions to deter parking of vehicles, thus making the roads narrower.

Building managers of condominiums resort to placing chains or cones or other barriers to prevent drivers parking at entrances. "No parking" signs or double yellow lines do not convey an effective message.

Instead of physical barriers, strict enforcement of laws and a culture of complying with the law and civic duty are better ways to make sure we have safe roads. Speed bumps punish everyone, including those who are law-abiding. Must the authorities build physical obstacles to ensure that Malaysians follow traffic rules?

Unfortunately, every time we substitute physical obstacles for signs, we indirectly send the message that laws are to be ignored until physical barriers or other impediments are in place. This leads to the belief that many municipal rules are unnecessary, or worse, simply instruments for corrupt officers to pocket extra income. Ultimately, this leads to the breakdown of a civil society.

There must be a change of mindset by both drivers and those in authority. Drivers must realise that a culture of non-compliance puts all of us at greater risk of harm. Authorities must make a greater effort to understand the reasons behind rule-breaking and non-compliance. They should also emphasise clear traffic signs and consistent law enforcement instead of more physical barriers.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: