Fear of Virus or Road Accidents: Interstate Travel Allowed, Road Safety First
Citizens must be very excited and happy to welcome the repeal of the ban on interstate travel. Excited and soaring hearts want to meet both parents and relatives who are always “playing in the eyes”, causing the long journey to be not felt. Driving or riding while imagining the faces that are loved and “stuck in the heart” will surely cure the longing in the heart to welcome the long-awaited return.
We will see the roads and highways filled with thousands of vehicles compared to the quiet during the Movement Control Order (MCO). In this regard, we should keep in mind that road safety should always be a priority when travelling.
Road accidents can happen anywhere, regardless of a person’s age and gender. Worse still, road accidents can cause loss of life, severe or minor injuries as well as property damage. Statistics show that the number of injuries and deaths due to road accidents increased during the lockdown. For example, the total number of road accidents was 31,155 cases with 299 deaths in the first month of the movement restriction order being implemented (i.e., 1,040 accidents/day). The increase in the road accident rate is very worrying as it is expected to continue to grow with the increase in the number of vehicles on the road.
Increase in fatalities
Specifically, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a 73% increase in motorcyclist fatalities and a 17.5% increase of car passenger fatalities were recorded compared to those involving heavy vehicles, pedestrians, buses, and others. In addition, a 90% increase in the e-hailing drivers’ and motorcyclists’ (e.g., Grab Food and Food Panda) road accident casualties, including fatalities, and serious and minor injuries, was recorded compared to the last five years.
A survey was conducted among our car drivers to overview and assess the driving behaviour of car drivers in Malaysia with regards to safety indicators (i.e., average driving speed, speeding duration, and aggressive driving) from March to September 2020 during the MCO period.
This survey found that many drivers take advantage of fewer vehicles on city streets, by accelerating above the speed limit for an average of 30km/h. Even though with a low volume of traffic, drivers are arriving at their destinations faster, there has been a slight increase in the average speed exceeding the speed limit.
The survey also discovered that there is an increase in the speeding duration while driving during the lockdown period. Particularly, a 72% rise was recorded for 1.5 – 2 seconds speeding duration, and an 84% spike for more than two seconds of speeding duration while driving. Worse still, drivers were observed accelerating their vehicle aggressively, particularly more than 10 times while driving.
The upsurge of speeds, speeding rates, and the frequency of aggressive driving indicated a possible deterioration in road safety and this was reflected in road accident statistics as certain driving behaviours may become the objective of government agencies’ counter-measures aimed at combating the “epidemic”-like phenomenon of traffic accidents. Whereas safety improvements on road infrastructure and vehicles might take years to have significant benefits, traffic behaviour can be managed and changed considerably more quickly if societal acceptability is increased and government intent is strong and honest. Managing effectively the five primary traffic killers, such as speeding, use of cell phone while driving, drink-driving, not wearing seat belt while driving, and not using a helmet, through police enforcement and big campaigns could be very helpful, with a large number of lives saved even in the near term.
Ethics of road users
The writer suggests that road users apply the ethics of road users, such as beginning every journey with a prayer, never being arrogant on roads, not doing harm to oneself and others, prioritising the necessities of other users, and having a good command of communication.
Public safety on the road requires the serious involvement by all road users. The objective is apparent, which is to maintain the safety of life and property as well as avoid things that could interfere with one's comfort. Some road users must consider that the ethical use of the road is part of their faith. They must obey all traffic rules, and any form of non-compliance should be deemed as guilty of violating the law. Users who drive carelessly and cause death and disabilities will be appropriately punished. Road users should always be aware of the fact that there is a need to respect the rights of others on the road.
Normal life and particularly travelling and commuting immediately after the lockdown might bring on stress on COVID-19 transmission. Safe driving behaviour would result in fewer accidents and lead to fewer casualties and injured persons. As a consequence, public health services will not see an increase in patient burden. To that purpose, strategies emphasising safer driving behaviour and highlighting findings from the present pandemic era might be raised in potential future pandemic waves.
The primary objective during and after the COVID-19 epidemic should be safer road traffic and zero accidents. The current situation must serve as a catalyst for new and serious conduct by both authorities and individuals to provide safer roads for everybody, wherever in the globe.
Dr Muhammad Asyraf Mohd Kassim is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Humanities at Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP).