By Norazlinda Hj Mohammad
Every day, in the newspapers and over radio, television and the Internet, we Malaysians are bombarded with disturbing news of road accidents in urban centres or rural areas across the country. Why are these accidents happening? Have Malaysian motorists forgotten road safety regulations? Imperatively, it is an obligation for all road users to abide by road safety rules at all costs. The escalating rate of the accidents is a cause for worry, not only to society but also to the government, authorities and enforcers who are thinking how to curb these mishaps.
Malaysian roads have been ranked the 17th most dangerous in the world, so classified by a group of researchers from the University of Michigan. Some of the road calamities that have traumatised us have had to do with convoys and illegal racing by motorcyclists, among others, on the DUKE Highway, Genting Sempah-Genting Highlands Highway, KL-Karak Highway, North-South Expressway and LPT Expressway.
The behaviour of unethical road bullies can be a distraction to some motorists. These hooligans follow the ordinary motorists bumper to bumper, fail to give signal indications at junctions and speed like Ferrari drivers with their low-cost vehicles. It must always be remembered that being a cool, tactful driver and practicing safe driving will keep you safe and lessen the risk of other motorists getting injured or killed on the road. In the words of wise man, "Driving faster can cause disaster. Drive less and drive smart".
Major road accidents or huge crashes cause damage in the form of human beings injured or killed and trees as well as government infrastructure such as lamp posts, road dividers and, bridges destroyed. Road accidents can have a detrimental effect on the emotions, especially causing sorrow, and loss not only to families of fatal road accident victims but also to the Malaysian government in terms of the economic, financial and social aspects. In fact, some of the road accidents involve people of a very young age, such as students, youths and young graduates, with a bright future ahead of them. It certainly causes a huge distress to us as it affects the human capital development or economic growth of Malaysia.
Human factor – the driver
An unskillful driver can end up being the main cause of a crash. Malaysian drivers must realise that they cannot drive fast like Speedy Gonzales. You must never imitate or be influenced by the action in the Fast and Furious movies and drive extremely fast. You must bear in mind the saying that “Speed Thrills but Kills”. Well, if you are late for an appointment or to catch a plane, so be it. You can never recover the missing minutes or hours by driving horrendously on the road. This type of drivers may lose control of the vehicle. As the saying goes, "Danger comes anytime without warning". People who are tired, sleepy and emotionally disturbed should not be driving at all. Likewise, those under the influence should also abstain from driving. Those on medication should not risk their life by driving. Drivers should refrain from overtaking at dangerous stretches such as winding roads. Try to be patient and understanding while driving and, finally, attempt to follow road rules and regulations at all times.
Another prime factor is that some irresponsible drivers are killed due to negligence as they would have been doing two things at the same time, such as texting, taking selfies or talking on the phone while at the wheel. The worst case is driving on the emergency lane. For God’s sake, this is foolish. It can be avoided and should not happen if they're intelligent drivers. Basically, they should always stay focused on the road rather than endanger themselves and other motorists. As a matter of fact, life is very precious to be wasted by these awful, unscrupulous, sinful acts.
Condition of the roads
Road conditions contribute a great deal towards the occurrence of crashes. Our driving speed should be commensurate with the road conditions. Faded road markings and potholes could be another cause for major road accidents. The poor motorcyclists become the victims of poor road maintenance as some of the motorcycle accidents happen due potholes, especially at night or during rain.
Some notorious drivers do not think twice about overtaking hazardously at sharp bents or at the double white lines, thus contributing to accidents. Fundamentally, it is not about being a dare devil or racer on the road; it is about being a sensible and cautious driver as you're not the only one using the road. Do think of other road users and your loved ones before resorting to any stupid or absurd action as it could leave you with undesirable consequences for life. Reduce speed if it’s raining and the roads are slippery. Rainwater also causes vehicles to hydroplane, which can be extremely dangerous. Tyre conditions and brakes play a major role in determining how fast we should drive in the rain. Accidents can also happen due to the irregular surface of roads which causes vehicle imbalance and eventual collision with another vehicle or infrastructure such as lamp posts.
Condition of the car
Another factor that can cause accidents is the poor condition or malfunctioning of the car. In other words, proper maintenance of the car is important. The brakes, lights, signal lights and horn have to be checked regularly, not forgetting the condition of the tyres and wipers too. Ensure also that seat belts are worn at all times. Ignorance of the law is no excuse! Most car or bus accidents happen due to the failing of brakes and bursting of tyres, making the vehicle spiral out of control or plunge into a ravine.
Don't be a foolish miser or simply procrastinate when it comes to servicing your car. Sensible drivers always keep their vehicles in tip-top condition. This is vital as it might cost you your life and a huge regret. In fact, it is devastating to see some of the vehicles in poor condition; they should be taken off the roads. Frankly speaking, in Singapore, after 10 years vehicles are strictly removed for good.
In Asia, rain and, sometimes, heavy fog, haze and dew, especially in the early morning and late evening, have reduced visibility, thus leading to road crashes. Motorists should be alert and switch on their headlights or hazard lights in rainy weather to warn oncoming vehicles. Although it is a small gesture, it is so helpful for the other vehicles and can save lives. Moreover, there should neither be any excuse nor is it permissible for Malaysian drivers to be reckless when driving or riding motorcycles on wet days. It is unwise for the drivers or motorcyclists to speed during rain or after a heavy downpour as less friction can cause the road to be slippery. You may be lucky, like a cat with nine lives, to tell the tale if you escape injury or death.
Strong light reflection
Reflected sunlight and the glare of headlights from oncoming cars have been reported to be the cause of many accidents. The glare of headlights of many vehicles which use the latest white lights can be blinding. Most Malaysian drivers think it is cool and trendy to install these white headlights without consideration of the massive consequences or adverse impact on other road users. Be a considerate driver and also not use high beam indiscriminately at night as it can affect the concentration of oncoming drivers and even make them angry at being almost blinded.
When roads are congested, there is a likelihood of more accidents happening. Crashes usually take place during the rush hour such as early morning, lunch hour and after-office hours. As a matter of fact, drivers should be alert and extra careful during these times. Accidents tend to happen in busy places such as near schools, factories and shopping centres.
Some of these accidents happen due to carelessness and ignorance of the drivers on the stipulated road safety regulations. Road safety rules have to be obeyed strictly, not only before getting your driving or riding licence but also after you have successfully secured it.
It has become cliché that road accidents are charting the highest rate during the festive seasons, what with the drivers getting impatient to reach their hometowns to celebrate Aidilfitri, Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas with little regard for the heavy traffic and congestion. Malaysian motorists should bear in mind that it is better to be a bit late than to be sorry. Adopt a wise, prudent attitude such as being careful, considerate, patient and tactful on the road as most accidents can be avoided. Malaysian drivers should not only think of themselves but also be tolerant of other road users as most road accidents can be prevented if they pay serious attention to the traffic regulations.
Working together to reduce accidents
Road accidents are increasing from year to year, bringing great fear and danger not only to the drivers but also to society as a whole. Alarmingly, Malaysia has the third highest fatality rate from road traffic accidents in Asia and ASEAN, behind Thailand and Vietnam. A recent report by Bloomberg cited statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that Malaysia is among the emerging countries with the riskiest roads after Thailand and South Africa. The Global Status Report on Road Safety published by the WHO and the World Bank in December 2018 reported that Malaysia recorded 7,152 road-accident deaths in 2016, with 87 per cent of those who died being male and 13 per cent, female. The WHO had estimated that for every road traffic death, there are about 15 serious injuries and 70 minor injuries.
Now this shocking statistics show that Malaysian families are hugely affected yearly by road fatalities, severe injuries, hospitalisation and disabilities. Fatalities in a road accident are not confined to the drivers but can also include the passengers. All parties must realise and give more attention to efforts to minimise the alarming rate of road accidents.
Several aspects have to be pondered upon seriously - the human factor, attitude of road users, road conditions, climate, regular inspection of vehicles by the authorities and stringent law enforcement. It will be a huge blessing for all Malaysians to work together to support and co-operate with the authorities and enforcers at all times in this endeavour.
Now is the time for a change of mindset and attitude to make our roads safe to drive - smoothly, securely and peacefully towards our destinations. Everyone should bear in mind to stay focused on the road when driving and never dice with death.
Norazlinda Hj Mohammad is Senior Lecturer at the Alor Gajah (Melaka) Campus of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM).