Column - One race too many

THE death of eight teenaged cyclists who were mowed down by a car at Jalan Lingkaran Dalam in Johor Baru brought another low to the country's transport safety record.

The tragedy completed the air-land-sea spectrum which includes the "disappearance" of a wide-bodied aircraft (yet to be explained); a series of fatal express bus accidents over the last decade, followed more recently by a catamaran that sank off a popular tourist island in Sabah.

In the last case, the boat "broke" in rough seas with mainly Chinese nationals on board. Their excursion that turned into a trauma during the Chinese New Year was déjà vu of sorts. Luckily, most of them were rescued after more than 32 hours, with three out of the 27 Chinese tourists found dead.

The ultimate humiliation is when it was discovered that the tour company, that owned the catamaran, had "illegally used the Kampung Tanjung Aru jetty" to transport tourists. They are supposed to use the Jesselton Point jetties or the jetties at high-end hotels.

The question is why was the illegal use of the jetty not closely monitored?

Unfortunately, the rhetoric after the transport tragedy was familiar.

The state tourism and culture assistant minister said in a report: "An overhaul of Sabah's marine tourism industry was being undertaken by a committee comprising various authorities and industry representatives.

"We will identify the weaknesses in the marine tourism industry and make recommendations in a report to the chief minister."

This gives Malaysia a poor image, notably to those from China. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson urged Malaysia to "ascertain the facts about the incident as quickly as possible".

As for the cycling tragedy, the situation seems more "complex" involving an interplay of several factors.

» The accident took place at 3am on a public road;

» A large group of 20 to 30 bicycle buffs were believed to be in the vicinity along Jalan Lingkaran Dalam;

» The cyclists are allegedly students from nearby schools;

» No evidence they used safety gear;

» Modifications were detected on the machines turning them into speedy "basikal lajak";

» A car driven by a 22-year-old woman who was reportedly "normal" at the time of the incident; and

» The deadly location is deemed "risky" to road users especially at night and at high-speeds.

Taken together all the factors made for a fatal recipe.

As expected, the authorities are now promising "drastic action".

Johor police sources earlier said: "(They) have taken diplomatic action on so many occasions, we sent their children home, we gave them advice, we did everything."

The police believe that the accident was preventable if only the whereabouts of the teenagers were closely monitored by their parents.

There are now suggestions to impose night curfews and to legally take the parents to task.

Therein is the core issue: what if the parents are not well equipped to handle such "misadventures" since their priority is to make ends meet?

What if the affected families are from the lower strata of society where the pressures exerted by places like Johor Baru are more than what meets the eye?

What if "cycling" is the only outlet the teenagers have, but there is no decent public place dedicated to such recreational activities?

(Incidentally, I spotted a new expensive looking velodrome in Nilai and wondered if this is good for "basikal lajak"?)

What if the teenagers are delinquents who are out of control?

This series of questions can go on and on before we can get a clear glimpse of what the "best" solution could be once and for all.

Lest we forget, the reality is that we are still grappling to get a handle on the so-called "Mat Rempit" menace.

The "lajak" version is just another part of a large iceberg that has been submerged for far too long. If the tragedy did not happen the nation would still be oblivious to the issue, let alone taking "drastic action".

Our enforcement has always been a pathetic reactive one usually triggered by the loss of lives.

Yet once the dust settles and the fuss is forgotten everything quietly slips back to the old ways. That is when the speedsters will once again gather (on their motorcycles and bicycles) to kick start other "misadventures" knowing full well that the authorities will not be able to keep up with their antics.

So watch out for the next race to death.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com