NOTED road safety activist Datuk Suret Singh has been particularly active on Twitter this past week or so amid the ever horrifying death toll among motorcyclists.
This very issue has filled up so much space in this column over the years with this columnist calling for action – and no more talk – by the powers that be to implement some basic ecosystem in order to drastically reduce the death toll involving kapcai or small-engine motorcycles.
But very sad to say, practically nothing effective has been done towards this objective of preventing thousands of our mostly young motorcyclists from dying at such an early stage of their lives. And meaningless deaths at that.
In one of several texts Suret posted lately, he wrote: “Rider A always rides on the fast lane. Rider B always rides on the slow left lane. Rider C always rides in between lanes. Rider C has the highest risk of a crash. 250cc and below riders should always ride on the slow left lane for their own safety. Kita jaga kita. Hargai nyawa (We protect ourselves. Value lives).
The following was my response over WhatsApp to Suret, who is also Chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research and prior to that Road Safety Department Director-General: “Everyone MUST be allowed only to ride on the left lanes. The moment they ride on the other two lanes, that’s when they start booking their earlier deaths. And in the process increasing the workload of grave-diggers.
“We need to move beyond talking now. Implementation is the game-changer”.
By implementation, I mean having designated lanes for motorcyclists so that they no longer are allowed to weave in and out of the fast lanes competing for little space with the heavy vehicles that’s the main cause of the very high rate of fatal crashes.
The death toll figures are indeed very gory but nevertheless I need to mention them here in the hope of pricking the conscience of the powers for that long overdue political will to implement the game-changer.
It’s actually not a game but literally a matter of life and death.
In the five years up to 2019, more than 21,000 riders died in such crashes while over 46,000 riders were killed during the 10-year period to 2019!
I know we are all numbed reading these statistics.
But I am happy to say that Suret is pushing hard though the official channels for the eventual rolling out of the special motorcycle lanes.
The 12th Malaysia Plan that kicks in next year is the best platform to begin implementing these lanes.
Or are we going to wait for plenty of thousands more such road deaths before swinging into action?
For this to happen, support must also come from the police and the Road Transport Department or JPJ as the key enforcement agencies.
While awaiting the necessary legislation to be put in place, both the traffic police and JPJ should mobilise their manpower to slowly but surely educate motorcyclists to keep to the left lanes and at safer speed limit.
And traffic police need to randomly station their men at traffic light junctions to deter motorcyclists from beating the red light with impunity as they do now.
Motorcyclist safety is actually the elephant in the room in Malaysia’s road safety agenda as about 70% of road deaths involve the two-wheelers.
Unfortunately it is the least discussed and the issue has been largely ignored or taken too much for granted for the longest time.
I have been a journalist for almost 50 years now but neither the present Transport Minister nor his many predecessors had placed motorcycle safety on their agenda.
In fact, the recent passage of the law on drink-driving, which among other things provide for tough punishment including mandatory jail sentence for drunk drivers who cause fatal crashes, is a classic example of misplaced priority.
Indeed it’s well and good to have such a law passed but drink-driving crashes only contributed about 1% of the average total of around 7,000 annual road deaths in the country.
So, let’s reset our priorities and set them right once and for all. Common sense dictates that the issue of 70% road deaths is crying out for action instead of the 1% one.
Now that we are having more and more of the so-called gig economy that popularises food delivery via motorcycles, the nation is bound to see a spike in motorcycle crashes.
Just look at the reckless manner the food delivery service riders behave on the roads as they need to deliver the food fast.
The more trips they make, the more income they earn.
The Covid-19 pandemic which reportedly led to the closure of thousands of small and medium enterprises and thousands losing their jobs also mean that more and more have taken up work as food deliverers.
There are already many such service operators with Malaysians discouraged to eat out due to the ongoing conditional movement control order.
Just on Wednesday another one made its debut, this time not from private operators but from the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives.
It’s called Warong Rider and as the name suggests, the food delivered is from the ubiquitous warong or food stalls.
I texted Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who launched the service, to prioritise safe riding in the service.
He took the advice well.
And this same message goes out to the other food delivery operators as well.
Bear in mind that our hospitals are crammed and their staff overworked in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
You all must play your part, like all motorcyclists out there, to ride safely to avoid more dead bodies piling up in the mortuaries.