YET another year is coming to an end and my New Year resolution is for the authorities to begin implementing more effective measures to drastically reduce the number of motorcycle-related deaths.
The fatality figures on what I consider as the most dangerous daily “activity” in the country – motorcycle riding – are too appalling to be ignored any further and a business as usual situation is intolerable and should cease.
I find it intolerable, too, and even shocking that despite tens of thousands of motorcyclists, mostly youths, having died over the years – and traffic accidents easily being the main source of deaths among this age group – not much debate has been generated to look into ways to curb the loss of lives.
Instead many Malaysians as well as NGOs are more concerned about petty matters especially sensitive ones on race, religion and politics.
Even ministers in charge of the youth portfolio all these years have not spoken about this.
And when questions are posed to the authorities on a suggestion that we need to confine motorcycles to dedicated lanes and impose a speed limit of 70km/h, the response has always been that more studies and more time is needed before this could be done.
But realistically, what more studies are needed to justify the critical need – long, long overdue – to bring sanity on our roads and highways when it comes to two-wheelers?
Do we want to see tens of thousands more such statistics before more effective road safety measures are introduced?
More than enough studies and research have been undertaken by agencies under the Transport Ministry on motorcycle safety, but with no effective implementation plans, they remain on file.
I spent five days in Hangzhou, one of China’s most prosperous cities, last month and as an advocate of safer motorcycle culture in this column, what impressed me most was its segregated motorcycle lanes.
Metal barricades separate the motorcyclists from other motorists and to top it up, all motorcyclists in Hangzhou or China for that matter are riding low-powered electric motorcycles with top speeds ranging from 60km/h to 90km/h.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and among others is the base of the Alibaba business empire and Geely, the Chinese partner of our national car, Proton.
Because they don’t squeeze or weave their way in and out of mainstream traffic at high speeds like most of our motorcyclists do, common sense dictates that their safe passage is virtually guaranteed.
How very blessed motorcyclists in China are compared with ours, who have to daily risk their lives just to get from point A to B.
Southeast Asian countries, where the small-engine motorcycles, better known as kapcai, are the most common means of transport, should adopt the Chinese model to save lives.
So many of our motorcyclists don’t make it home daily from work, leaving behind grieving loved ones and other dire economic consequences.
And we are not even talking about those seriously injured who later succumbed to injuries or became physically handicapped for life.
Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) researchers concluded that economic losses from deaths and injuries involving motorcycle users from 2015 to 2017 alone came to RM18.15 billion. Imagine the losses in previous years.
To say that this is mind-boggling is the understatement of the year.
Paying compensation to families of motorcyclists who died while commuting is the biggest headache for the Social Security Organisation (Socso).
Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
There certainly is.
Like I have written consistently, the authorities should seriously consider a noble idea floated by the Safety First Group, whose thousands of members on WhatsApp are concerned with the daily safety of Malaysians, especially road safety.
The group wants segregated lanes and a lower mandatory speed limit for motorcycles.
This New Year 2020 we are going to have a child seat law coming into force and this is commendable.
By the same token, some Safety First officials met Transport Minister Anthony Loke and Works Minister Baru Bian to push this agenda many months ago, but so far there has been no outcome.
With more than 4,000 motorcycle-related deaths annually, Malaysia is within the top five in the world for such deaths.
Road safety experts say that no motorcyclist can survive a more than 50km/h crash impact. This is supported by research on the effectiveness of safety helmets by Dr Akira Shibata and Dr Katsuhiro Fukuda from Japan’s Kurume University.
How very true indeed their findings are because despite our crash helmet law having been enforced for more than 40 years now with almost 100% compliance, in any given 10 years in Malaysia, more than 40,000 motorcyclists and pillion riders are killed.
Multiply that by four times. Enough is enough.
I know Loke is committed to road safety and in this column I would on behalf of Safety First urge him to start planning for the lower speed limit for motorcycles.
And for Baru to work on the separate lanes which won’t cost much. All that is needed are: for a start, double lines on the left lane with enough space to comfortably ride a motorcycle.
Over the long term, the ideal solution is segregated lanes where motorcycles don’t come into contact with bigger vehicles.
Happy New Year to all readers and motorcyclists, sayangkan nyawa anda (love your life). Keep to the left and avoid speeding.