“The most effective way to reduce motorcycle deaths and injuries is for the two-wheelers to ride along dedicated lanes or lanes for only motorcycles.
IT takes a United Nations (UN) envoy to call out Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be more serious about saving lives on the road by making road safety the country’s top agenda.
The UN secretary-general’s special representative for road safety and global icon Datuk Seri Jean Todt wants Malaysia to make a firm commitment to enforcing the relevant laws in order to address the staggering rates of traffic fatalities and injuries, and reduce the number of crashes.
Statistics show the dire situation of our road carnage, and yet road safety and effective life-saving measures are hardly given top priority on the national agenda.
Based on police records, there have been 168,659 traffic fatalities and more than a million injuries sustained from road crashes in Malaysia since 1995. This is an average of 6,486 lives lost and tens of thousands of injuries sustained annually or 19 killed every day. And the most depressing statistic is that 80,952 who have been killed since 2001 are motorcyclists.
As of August last year, for every 100 road deaths, 70 were motorcyclists, pushing the country closer to replacing Thailand as having the world’s highest death toll for motorcyclists. These alarming figures should prick everyone’s conscience, particularly motorcyclists, to always think of safety first while riding.
“There is no point in having laws if you do not enforce them. The laws are out there and they need to be enforced. You may not be popular but at the end of the day, you will become popular because you have saved lives,” said Todt.
It is most appropriate that the UN envoy made this appeal specifically to Anwar. For the past two months since being prime minister, Anwar has been hitting the ground running trying to fix so many problems inherited from past administrations, and nothing is more noble than implementing efforts to save lives lost unnecessarily on our roads and highways.
Just as we have seen how effective the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic has been over the past three years when everyone committed to it, likewise we should make an effort to save the many lives lost daily on our roads. Although Covid-19 deaths and road fatalities as well as injuries are not “apple to apple” comparison but lives are lives. And if there is anyone who can once and for all initiate action to place saving lives on top of the nation’s agenda, as called out by Todt, it is our prime minister.
As Todt rightly points out, road crashes, deaths and injuries can cause huge losses to a country’s gross domestic product, hitting 3% to 5%. The government can reduce these losses by getting serious about road safety, which can result in fewer casualties.
The social costs and the untold sufferings of family members left behind by victims of road crashes are beyond description.
In Malaysia, one glaring outcome from the high death toll among motorcyclists is the huge number of homes for children who have become orphans at such an early age. Adding to this is the phenomenon of young single mothers whose husbands have perished in motorcycle crashes.
Aside from road safety campaigns or operations carried out for the “balik kampung” exodus during and after festive seasons, like the Chinese New Year starting this weekend, there is not much awareness or education programmes carried out during the non-festive seasons to spread the message of road safety.
For example, thousands of billboards dot both sides of our highways across Peninsular Malaysia but there is not one with a road safety message. All are advertising commercial products. It is acceptable for highway operators to earn income from these ubiquitous billboards but they should also undertake some corporate social responsibility by putting up billboards with road safety messages as well.
A more effective approach would be to prominently display videos on digital billboards, for example, of gory scenes of motorcycle crashes as a scare tactic to encourage a safer riding culture. Drivers are dismayed at the dangerous manner in which most motorcyclists weave in and out of traffic.
As I write this column, I received a WhatsApp video from a friend displaying yet another motorcycle crash, one of the most horrifying I have seen. It shows a motorcyclist speeding just inches away from a car, who then loses control, hitting the car and gets thrown off before crashing into a metal barrier along the road. Worst still, he was not alone but had a pillion, a little girl aged about three years old. Fortunately, she fell off the bike and was taken to safety by a motorist.
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This type of crash is considered common, given that motorcycles are a popular means of transport for the younger generation. Motorcycle crashes are also, by extension, the No.1 cause of death and injuries among those aged between 16 and 39 years.
Anthony Loke, now in his second stint as transport minister, in his speech at the launch of a road safety campaign in conjunction with the Chinese New Year, expressed concern that the people’s awareness and recognition of road crashes are not as profound or deep-rooted as their fear for Covid-19. The minister should also prioritise advocating safer motorcycle riding.
I have written several times before in this column that the most effective way to reduce motorcycle deaths and injuries is for the two-wheelers to ride along dedicated lanes or motorcycles-only lanes. For as long as they are permitted to share the main roads with the big vehicles, the death toll will continue to rise unabated as the motorcycle population is increasing by the day.
I urge our prime minister to seriously look into implementing such lanes. It is now or never. It is no rocket science, just common sense.
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