The thrill that kills

16 Nov 2019 / 13:37 H.

I COINED this headline to send the message on how, driven mainly by the thrill of speeding, thousands of people are killed in Malaysia every year in man-made tragedies.

“Off the Cuff” readers will guess what I’m trying to get at – yes, I’m again focusing on motorcyclists whose “always in a hurry” riding culture is a major cause of fatal road crashes.

I salute those who are not in this category and who go for defensive or safer riding and who resist the temptation of speeding and weaving in and out of the fast lanes.

But all road users can see that the number of those keeping to safer left lanes or riding at a much safer speed is small compared to the “impatient” or the speed-thriller motorcyclists.

If you ask why they choose to ride this way, many will tell you that it’s not macho enough to ride like those we see in other Southeast Asian countries.

And it is this thrill or shall I say this cheap thrill that kills and it’s cheap because many have paid the ultimate price for showing their macho side on roads and highways but who are now lying six feet underground.

Last weekend, somewhere in Perak on my way to Kuala Kangsar on the North-South Expressway, a convoy of motorcyclists riding bigger bikes than the kapcai or small-engine machines squeezed past cars on the fast lanes at daredevil speed.

It was like watching a motorcycle race on the F1 circuit on television as they threw all caution to the wind and put the lives of other road users at great risk as well.

My thought whenever I come across such racing on roads is: these people’s destination is the graveyard.

This is a regular sight especially on weekends as these bikers go on excursions with their gangs apparently to hone their riding skills and for the thrill of speeding.

The next day on my way back to Kuala Lumpur, I bumped into a massive traffic jam, and guess what? Many bikers with high-powered machines, costing at least RM100,000 each, were looking at a fellow biker stretchered onto an ambulance.

So, it’s not only the much cheaper kapcai that’s so vulnerable to mind-boggling crashes but the big and very expensive ones, too, and all because of what I have consistently stressed in this column – speeding on the fast lanes competing for space with bigger vehicles.

Because the number of big bikes is much smaller than kapcais, fatal crashes involving them are naturally rarer but the bottom-line is the same: speed kills.

As any big biker can tell us, what’s the point of owning one and spending a fortune or the price of an affordable house without getting “high” or macho by speeding?

Which brings me to the point that I feel most “itchy” to write about this week – the emergence of a fairly new yet equally dangerous craze or menace, which if left unchecked is bound to cost more lives among our young citizens.

It’s the so-called Mat Lajak menace, a name derived from the much older phenomenon found only in Malaysia but something none of us are proud of – the Mat Rempit.

While the Mat Rempit are gambling their lives away on kapcai especially on late night excursions, the Mat Lajak are children aged below 16 riding bicycles that do not have brakes at breakneck speed while stretched out “Superman style” on the seat.

The word lajak means speeding. While the authorities, especially our traffic police, have hardly been able to tackle the Mat Rempit menace, they now have to contend with the Mat Lajak who ride their bikes not just in housing areas but roads and highways.

We often see them displaying their misplaced and unwanted skills on videos posted in social media.

Another group of people who have reason to worry or more than worry about the Mat Lajak are over-worked grave diggers.

This is yet another social problem in a long list afflicting my fellow Malay community because virtually all the Mat Rempit and Mat Lajak are Malays.

Surely this is something that the defenders of the so-called “Malay dignity”, who included some learned professors, should be concerned with instead of merely expressing racial sentiments for the sake of doing so.

To me, dignity could diminish if more and more of the young become Mat Rempit or Mat Lajak.

And by the same token, Islamic religious preachers in their regular sermons could chip in by invoking verses that call on Muslims to refrain from doing anything that unnecessarily puts their lives at risk.

And by the way, the manner these professors or others for the matter, who harp on dignity, behave, it’s as if other communities don’t have one.

They conveniently forget that we are living in a multiracial nation and that we are not like a single race country.

As for the Mat Lajak menace among schoolboys, it’s obvious that their parents have failed to get them off the highways.

Even news about eight boys killed in Johor Baru in the wee hours of the morning in February 2017 after a car ploughed into a group of 30 riders means nothing to these speedsters.

Actually, there have been many other Mat Lajak deaths not reported in the media.

While we are dealing with this latest source of man-made tragedies, there have been some suggestions that proper facilities be built for these children to pursue their passion for cycling.

To me, this idea will only speed up the process of the Mat Lajak graduating into Mat Rempit and we are just not tackling let alone solving any problem. We are worsening it.

The head of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Road Safety Research Centre, Prof Law Teik Hua, dismissed the proposal for special racing tracks for the Mat Lajak, saying these boys prefer to ride on public roads because it’s more thrilling.

It’s that cheap thrill that I alluded to earlier but for which many have paid the ultimate price and many more will if it’s business as usual.

The police recently took the unprecedented step of arresting some parents of Mat Lajak.

This came about after six boys aged between 11 and 15 were detained at Taman Kosas in Ampang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, at about 8.50pm on Sunday and had their bicycles seized.

Their arrests were made under Section 33 of the Child Act that provides for a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to RM5,000 or both.

Now parents in the B40 category, many of whom are already hard pressed to eke out a living especially in the cities, are suddenly living as dangerously as their children.

It’s imperative for parents with children having these brakeless bikes to get rid of the bikes in the best possible way while those who have yet to own one should not be allowed to get it.

But to me, the best solution is to ban these bikes and give police powers to seize them.

Otherwise, we are going to see repeats of the 2017 Johor Baru tragedy.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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