YEAR in and year out there have been road safety campaigns especially in urban centres identified as hotspots but the number of fatal accidents keeps rising.
While the ever growing number of motor vehicles is a contributing factor for what I described in an earlier column as “self-inflicted” genocide which claims around 7,000 lives annually, it’s long overdue that the authorities tasked with road safety get their priorities right by opting for more effective measures instead of sticking to business as usual.
Let’s go straight to the point – we should go after the kapcais or the small motorcycles that make up Malaysia’s largest number of road users and by their very nature are most vulnerable to fatal crashes.
Nearly 4,000 people were killed in motorcycle-related accidents in 2007 and I believe many more who succumbed to serious injuries much later were not taken into account.
We are just into the New Year and reports seem to suggest the law prohibiting smoking in restaurants is effective with hardly any customers seen lighting up after meals.
Kudos for this long-overdue legislation. We hope that at the end of the six-month grace period when offenders can be fined or jailed, no one will have to go though the harsh custodial sentence just for smoking.
A new WhatsApp Safety First Group, of which I am a member, has already managed to garner over 500 members and our focus now is on safe riding by kapcai users.
Let me put on record our utmost appreciation to Transport Minister Anthony Loke for granting us his precious time after the weekly Cabinet meeting two days ago to listen to our case on kapcais, the most ubiquitous means of transport in the country.
Safety campaigns for these two-wheelers must go beyond handing out leaflets or crash helmets at toll plazas during the festive season but should go to the root cause.
The two-wheelers especially kapcais and not the big bikes like Harley-Davidson or Ducati, to begin with, must be confined to the left lanes on highways or roads that don’t have dedicated motorcycle lanes.
For their own safety or to put it more bluntly, to save their own lives, a law ought to be enacted in the near future whereby small motorcycles are banned from using the middle or right lanes used by cars and other bigger vehicles.
If not they will continue this culture of speeding and zig-zagging on the same lanes as cars or lorries with hardly six inches of space at times separating them.
And it’s worse during the rush hours in the morning where everyone’s focus is on reaching their workplace on time.
For roadusers, it’s a common sight in the morning to see injured motorcyclists on the roadside waiting for an ambulance. Sometimes, they will catch a glimpse of a dead body covered up by emergency response personnel.
Uppermost in our group’s list of priority safety measures is for a lower speed limit for kapcais at 70kph like in Vietnam, particularly Hanoi, which has more motorcyclists than the Klang Valley.
Datuk Rosli Isa, the director-general of the Road Safety Department, who also attended our group’s meeting with the transport minister agreed with the point I made that studies have shown that the chances of a motorcyclist being killed could be reduced by as much as 80% if the rider keeps to the 70kph speed limit.
And it was very heartening for us to hear at the meeting that Loke’s top priority at the ministry is to implement the right measures to help bring down the rate of road deaths.
“I know this might be politically unpopular but I have never in my political career been bothered by popularity. In any case, I have never lost in an election,” said Loke, half in jest.
He has made an impact and made a difference since joining the Cabinet and he assured us that the points and arguments we raised would be given due consideration.
Motorcycle accidents are easily the No. 1 killer among Malaysians and if no out-of-the-box steps are taken to curb this, the “genocide” will continue unabated.
It is also our group’s intention to carry out a mentor-mentee campaign where owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles within the group reach out to kapcai riders to instil the art of safe riding.
Another plan is to get survivors of motorcycle crashes to give talks to kapcai riders to create a phobia for reckless riding or speeding in between cars that is so commonplace.
Schools and parents play a key role because countless children some as young as 12 are riding motorcycles to school and worse, many are without helmets.
More programmes are expected to be rolled out this year if the group gets the support of all stakeholders.
A good start has been made with the minister’s backing and what’s important is to keep the momentum going.