Better safe than sorry

16 May 2019 / 19:20 H.

WHY are many of our motorcyclists in a rush? This is the most worrying aspect of motorcycling culture in Malaysia compared to other countries that have a huge number of two-wheelers.

Are they not aware of the wisdom of the Malay proverb “Biar lambat asal selamat” or its English equivalent “Better safe than sorry”?

In the past one month, I spent a few days in China’s Hainan province and Aceh in Indonesia and the first thing that struck me was the road discipline of their motorcyclists.

In the Hainan resort city of Boao not only do the motorcyclists ride strictly on the left lanes but in my reckoning, they ride at bicycle speeds of 40-50km per hour.

This is perhaps mainly due to a rapidly modernising China’s transition from a bicycle culture to a motorised vehicle society.

As regular readers of this column will by now vouch, I’m “obsessed” with writing about the safety of motorcyclists given that on average over 4,000 Malaysians die each year in motorcycle crashes.

The most popular word used by the media when reporting about the incredibly high number of road deaths is “accidents” but are they strictly speaking accidents?

Do we call these mere accidents when so many motorcyclists ride their bikes in such a great hurry oblivious that they are the most vulnerable to road crashes compared to bigger vehicles?

A big percentage of the motorcycle crashes and the resulting deaths could be avoided or prevented if all stakeholders give this issue the utter seriousness that it deserves.

Thus far, it has not even been classified as an issue of national concern and the hundreds or even thousands of non-governmental organisations sprouting like mushrooms fighting for all sorts of causes have not been bothered to champion this cause.

Impatient motorcyclists are a common sight on our roads. They can’t wait and always want to be ahead and refuse to go with the traffic flow.

They speed, sneak and weave between cars, buses and lorries at unacceptable speeds. And it’s worse in the evening during this fasting month of Ramadan, it looks like there is Godzilla chasing them.

It’s absolutely obvious that we just cannot continue to adopt this “business as usual” approach in dealing with or tackling such wanton loss of lives, most of whom are youths.

With Hari Raya two weeks away, there will be the usual road safety campaigns all over the place but the outcomes of such efforts are cosmetic at best.

We need more than these media events to get to the root causes. To begin with, laws need to be put in place as quickly as possible for motorcyclists to be permitted to ride only on the left lanes.

And these lanes need to be segregated from the four-wheelers or other road monsters by double-lines just like the double-lines meant to prevent vehicles from overtaking which are highly effective as a deterrent.

The other measure has to be lower speeds for the small-engine motorcycles or kapcais, which are the most common and affordable means of transport for the B40 group.

Astoundingly, there are 15 million kapcais registered in the country.

Without segregated lanes and lower riding speeds, I, for one, strongly believe that whatever other measures that might be enforced will be ineffective as shown all these years.

Except, of course, for the crash helmets. But come to think of it, the majority of the motorcyclists and pillion riders killed yearly were wearing crash helmets. They succumbed to other injuries.

I’m pleased and most thankful to note that the new chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), Datuk Suret Singh, is engaging other stakeholders to push for implementation of the proposals for left-lane-riding-only and lower speeds for kapcais.

If some laws need to be amended, so be it. It’s long overdue.

Added to this is the effort of the Safety First Group that is campaigning basically via WhatsApp to champion this agenda.

Its leading members have met with Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook and Works Minister Baru Bian to impress on them how important it is for political will to prevail to save the lives of thousands of motorcyclists.

Certainly, the elephants in the room are the motorcyclists themselves.

For this, all of us campaigning steadily for their safety can ask them this question: “Do you really need to be in such a great hurry while riding without even caring for dear life or thinking of your loved ones at home?

“You may arrive 10 or 15 minutes earlier at your destination but what if you don’t arrive at all?”

And once again, Biar lambat asal selamat.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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