THE 12th Malaysia Plan is set to take off in 2021 and government agencies are submitting proposals for nation-building for the five years that follow.
Enough money to be passed around to implement proposals that would finally make it to the plan would as usual be the biggest challenge for the government.
For die-hard road safety activists, there is nothing more crucial or urgent in their wish list for the 12th Plan than to see the implementation of segregated traffic lanes for the small-engine or kapcai motorcyclists.
Although no such lanes on a nationwide scale have been thought of for the past 11 Malaysia Plans despite an average of 13 to 14 deaths daily or over 4,700 a year among our motorcyclists, the Safety First Group, for example, is praying hard that at long last such lanes could become a reality in the new plan.
Where do we need such lanes? – On adjoining federal and state roads.
Why? – Most kapcai deaths are on these roads.
Members of the Safety First Group, a huge WhatsApp community, are passionate about doing their bit to stop this wanton loss of lives, with most victims in the 16-36 age group.
Such self-inflicted “genocide” as some of its members would call it, has been going on for far too long without any effective or concrete plans to reduce or prevent fatal kapcai crashes.
Prominent road safety crusader, Datuk Suret Singh, has joined the group and thrown in his full support for the special lanes for the two-wheelers.
Suret is chairman of the Malaysian Institute for Road Safety Research (Miros) and prior to that he was director-general of the Road Safety Department, both under the Transport Ministry.
“The biggest win for Malaysian road safety is to spend money on exclusive kapcai lanes,” he told me.
Just like the Safety First Group of which I happen to be the adviser, Suret is very confident that a big allocation and high priority placed on motorcycle lanes will save more than 4,000 lives a year.
“We build this infrastructure only once but after that we will reap the benefit of saving thousands of our young riders every year,” he said.
Like others in the group, I could see that Suret gets emotional when talking about the benefits of such lanes and saving lives.
There are far greater motorcycles than cars on our roads and riders deserve equal attention when it comes to road safety infrastructure.
They merit more attention. Motorcyclists are many times more vulnerable or the most vulnerable to road crashes with dire consequences because of the very nature of their vehicles.
The statistics are gory to say the least.
When these lanes are finally built, hopefully in the near future, the authorities need only enforce compliance initially. After that, periodic and random enforcement will ensure the high rate of usage especially in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor where the usage of existing dedicated lanes is reportedly as high as 83%.
The best example of segregated lanes is along the Federal Highway from Kuala Lumpur to Klang, which is one of the world’s busiest freeways. There have hardly been fatal crashes involving motorcyclists on these lanes.
On and off, however, we still see riders squeezing for space on the highway due to some realignment work on these lanes and our hope is that these road works are speeded up so that motorcylists can get back to the dedicated lanes.
Motorcycle lanes should be well-maintained and comparable to our beautiful First World highways, said Suret.
The Safety First Group is also campaigning for a lower speed limit for motorcyclists to put an end to the culture of speeding.
Research shows that if the speed limit is set at 60-70kph, the chances of death could be reduced by as much as 80% in such crashes.
These kapcai deaths cost the nation billions annually as most of the victims are productive people.
Within agencies like the Social Security Organisation (Socso) to which workers and employers contribute monthly payments for compensation claims for work-related accidents, the grim statistics is a major cause for concern.
Socso has to pay at least RM800 million annually as compensation and pension to families of road accident victims.
And so, too, the insurance companies given the fact that close to 7,000 people die every year on our roads and highways nationwide. The figure is one of the world’s highest.
The daily payout runs into millions and if the trend continues, the day might come when insuring a motorcyclist becomes unsustainable.
This makes it even more imperative for such lanes so that cars and other bigger vehicles do not have to compete for space with the motorcyclists, which actually is the main cause of such deaths.
The Safety First Group strongly feels that these segregated lanes, which Miros and its chairman Suret are also advocating, can no longer be put on hold or postponed.
Let’s all hope for the best.
I end this column with a comment posted by a member of the group: “Half of the money squandered under 1MDB would be enough to build exclusive lanes with barriers to protect 15 million young riders on our roads every day and provide them with safe mobility”.