Lately, there had been a number of fatal road accidents involving heavy vehicles, with their faulty braking system often cited as the main reason for the vehicles to go out of control. In this first of a three-part article, experts tell Bernama other factors are also responsible for such collisions.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Case 1: In January this year, a woman was killed after her car was hit by a cement mixer truck at a traffic signal junction at Jalan Cemerlang, Kota Bharu, Kelantan. The truck’s brakes were believed to have malfunctioned.
Case 2: In May, five students of Universiti Sultan Azlan Shah perished in an accident at Km245.2 of the North-South Highway, near Kuala Kangsar, Perak, after the trailer of a lorry laden with mosaic tiles ploughed into their car.
Case 3: In July, four members of a family lost their lives in a collision involving seven vehicles, including a truck pulling a trailer, at Km277.1 of the North-South Highway, near Ipoh, Perak.
In all three cases, the accidents were attributed to mechanical problems, namely brake failure.
Between July 7 and Aug 17 this year alone, 10 fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles were reported. As usual, brake failure was cited as the main cause of the accidents concerned.
Whether or not faulty brakes are to be blamed, some quarters feel that pinning the blame on the vehicle’s braking system seems like a convenient way to cover up the real “culprits” which may include negligent driving and speeding.
WHERE IS THE ENFORCEMENT?
In Kampung Haji Mohd Shariff in Meru, Klang, many residents have claimed seeing lorries transporting sand speeding through their residential area daily without any regard for the safety of other road users.
Private-sector employee Hamizah Badiran said it was a normal occurrence along Jalan Paip, the main road linking road users to a few other highways.
“My house is located only about 300 metres from Jalan Paip which is used by motorists to get to Setia Alam, Puncak Alam, Sungai Buloh, Subang, Puncak Perdana and Shah Alam.
“This road is also used by parents and guardians to send and pick up their children from Sekolah Kebangsaan Meru 2 where they study. Hence, the situation there is very dangerous (due to the speeding lorries),” the mother of one said.
According to Bernama’s observations, the drivers of the heavy vehicles there do not only speed but also blatantly ignore traffic regulations prohibiting them from using certain roads during peak hours.
It also appears that enforcement is not as tight as it should be.
According to police statistics, between January and June this year, a total of 19,888 heavy vehicles were involved in road accidents nationwide, reflecting a 28 percent hike in such cases compared to the corresponding period last year.
Police statistics also showed that since 2009, over 1,000 people have died and 700 injured, some severely,every year in accidents involving lorries or trucks.
In fact, principal assistant director of the Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department at Bukit Aman Supt Dr Bakri Zainal Abidin told Bernama in an interview that 80 percent of road accidents involving heavy vehicles are caused by the “negligence of the drivers themselves”.
According to Puspakom Sdn Bhd, Malaysia’s computerised vehicle inspection company, checks carried out on 270,385 heavy vehicles in the first six months of this year revealed that 15.8 percent or 42,772 of them failed to comply with the standards set by the Road Transport Department (JPJ), with 4.6 percent or 12,339 failing the brake efficiency test.
The agency’s data is clear proof that brake failure is not the sole cause of road accidents involving heavy vehicles, pointed out Universiti Malaya (UM) Centre for Transportation Research head Dr Yuen Choon Wah.
He said other factors for such accidents include road conditions, vehicle speed and the driver’s condition.
“It’s not right to use brake problems as an excuse just to waive the driver’s responsibility.
“I’m of the view that the driving style and attitude of the driver are the primary causes. For example, if a vehicle is driven at a lower speed, the stopping distance (after the brakes are applied) is shorter, which may prevent a collision,” said Yuen, who is also a senior lecturer at UM’s Faculty of Civil Engineering.
Elaborating on this, he said with the speed limit on roads in urban areas set at 60km/h, normal vehicles will need a stopping distance of 45 metres to come to a complete halt while heavy vehicles will require a longer stopping distance.
Tyre pressure is also another aspect that heavy vehicle drivers should pay attention to. This is because good pressure can maximise braking efficiency.
“More frequent inspections are necessary for heavy vehicles, based on the distance they travel. In my opinion, the once in six months inspection, which is the requirement now, is not sufficient,” he said, adding that lorries carrying excessive loads face a higher risk of experiencing braking problems.
Puspakom chief executive officer Mohammed Shukor Ismail agreed that braking problems were not the main cause of the accidents that had occurred recently involving heavy vehicles.
He said that based on Puspakom’s statistics for the period between January 2021 and June 2022, only 8.5 percent of heavy vehicles that were periodically inspected at the centre had failed to meet the braking efficiency standards.
“This means only two or three out of every 100 heavy vehicles that were periodically inspected had braking efficiency issues or used tyres that didn’t comply with our standards,” he said.
He explained that brake failure can occur due to various reasons including lack of maintenance or maintenance not carried out in accordance with the specifications recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
Incompetent driving, such as braking suddenly frequently, as well as other road conditions, can also damage the braking system.
Based on the official statistics and views of experts, it is clear that brake failure is not solely responsible for most of the fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles. So, how long are the authorities going to shut their eyes and blame the brakes each time a serious accident occurs and lives are lost?
Translated by Rema Nambiar