AFTER many ineffective campaigns over the years to reduce road deaths, a recent proposal to confine motorcyclists to the left lane appears to be a brilliant game-changer given time.
The proposal is one of a few by a WhatsApp group called Safety First. The group also proposed that the speed limit for motorcyles with 150cc engines and below, better known as kapcais, be lowered to 70kph from the 110kph that applies to all motor vehicles.
Safety First is gratified that the idea has gained traction hardly nine days after it was mooted during a meeting it had with Transport Minister Anthony Loke.
The New Straits Times reported it on the front-page and the prominent space the daily devoted to this issue goes to show everyone’s deep concern over the rising road fatalities for which motorcyclists and pillion riders are the biggest victims.
Last year, some 4,000 motorcyclists and their pillion riders were killed and the number could be higher if those who succumbed to their injuries later were taken into account.
But just expressing concern or grief and continuing with the same approach to tackle these man-made tragedies that have spilled so much blood isn’t going to change anything. The apathy has to stop and enough is enough.
It’s with this in mind that the Safety First Group, which within a few months has garnered over 500 members comprising many senior executives, including owners of big motorcycles like Harley-Davidson and Ducati, is engaging stakeholders to really make a difference this time with their one and only objective – saving lives.
Loke said his ministry welcomed any proposal that could reduce motorcycle-related deaths and was looking into its practicality and enforcement.
The Road Safety Department is looking into the effectiveness of the move as well as that of lowering the speed limit given the fact that speeding has been identified as the main cause for fatal accidents involving two wheelers.
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, undoubtedly Malaysia’s No. 1 social activist, is excited about the two proposals and told me that he would give his wholehearted support for their implementation.
Lee’s contribution is all the more meaningful because he chairs the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh).
Niosh is particularly relevant here because many of these fatalities involved motorcyclists and pillion riders killed either on their way to work or returning home after work.
I know that within the inner circles of the Social Security Organisation (Socso) to which workers and their employers contribute monthly payments for compensation claims for work-related mishaps, the grim road death statistics are a major cause for concern.
Socso has to dish out at least RM800 million annually as compensation to families of road accident victims.
And naturally, too, the insurance companies given the fact that an average of close to 7,000 people died every hear on roads and highways nationwide, one of the world’s highest.
The daily payout runs into millions and if the trends continue to rise, there might come a day when insuring a motorcyclist becomes unsustainable.
In view of this scenario, the Safety First Group hopefully could count on the support of Socso and the insurance companies in its effort via campaigns to drive home the message on how crucial it is for motorcyclists to keep to the left lane and go slower.
At the heart of the message is to instil a healthy respect for these bikes or caution against their all too rampant use as a mode of transport. Short of telling them that it’s a potential killer machine if ridden recklessly and at high speeds.
Research has shown that chances of themotorcyclists getting killed in crashes could be reduced by as much 80% if they keep to the 70kph speed limit.
But it is the move to get them off the middle and/or the right lane that would be the focus and for this, the earlier a law enacted on it, the faster we shall reach the target of saving lives.
Contrary to scepticism expressed by some motorcyclists, the proposal makes sense.
Motorcyclists are risking dear lives by weaving in and out of traffic especially during peak hours as if competing for limited space with other vehicles.
It is difficult to understand why motorcyclists seem to be always in a hurry without a care for the high risk involved. While motorists have some protection within their vehicles, the motorcyclists and pillion riders only have their helmets and jackets to make a difference between life and death.
There are wider social and societal implications to this road carnage. The loved ones the crash victims leave behind and more often than not, they are the sole bread-winners in their families.
It explains why we have so many homes for orphans, who are mostly around 10-12 years old, and who barely knew or grew up with parental love.
I, for one, grieve each time I come across a news story about a married couple killed on the road.
I have met at random these orphans and learnt that many of their dads had died in motorcycle accidents.
And by the same token, we, too, have many single mothers.
As far as the Safety First Group is concerned, enforcement is not the issue if such a law on left lanes or lower speed limit comes into force.
With more than 10 million motorcycles on our roads, enforcement is next to impossible but once the target of lowering the toll among the two-wheelers is achieved, it will prick everyone’s conscience and riding on the left lane at slower speeds will become the norm.
As the majority of those killed are Malays, the sermon delivered last Friday in mosques in Kuala Lumpur was timely – it exhorted that taking greater care of one’s precious life is demanded in Islam.
I can only hope that more preachers will help put across this safe riding message to motorcyclists.