Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grim reality of our road carnage

Grim reality of our road carnage
Posted on 29 August 2011 - 07:47pm
Last updated on 29 August 2011 - 10:23pm
Azman Ujang

MALAYSIANS can all be very thankful that our country is not in the Pacific Ring of Fire belt where natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common.

We are equally fortunate to be spared from violence arising from bomb blasts that occur almost daily in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

But here comes the reality check – over 6,500 people are killed yearly on our roads, more than from bomb attacks in these three countries put together.

For a country with 28 million people, Malaysia's rate of road fatalities is very high by any standard. Just imagine over 65,000 people die in road accidents in any 10-year period in this country, enough to fill our biggest football stadium, the National Stadium at Bukit Jalil.

And it is during festive seasons like Hari Raya that Malaysians are given a peek into what this road carnage entails from the Ops Sikap statistics.

But what are we, especially the powers that be, actually doing to try to save as many lives as possible that are lost at an average of 18 daily?

How effective are campaigns like Ops Sikap that make their appearance only during festive seasons or for that matter the Road Safety Department?

I don't think they are until we do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this massive loss of lives. In other words, beyond giving the customary "Drive carefully" advice.

While the huge number of traffic police personnel manning the roads and highways during the "balik kampung" exodus from the cities could hopefully deter accidents, the real cause is the uncontrolled use of motorcycles.

Every year about 4,000 motorcyclists die in road accidents with an unspecified number of others injured and maimed and they make up over 65% of the total fatalities.

Sixteen years have passed since the then director-general of the Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), Prof Dr Radin Umar, completed his survey which concluded that motorcycle lanes could reduce fatalities by as much as 83%.

Dr Radin and I, for one, thought that since the survey was commissioned by the government, efforts would be made to implement its findings. After all, it would mean saving thousands of lives, and given the fact that the majority of motorcyclists are in the younger age group, there's a compelling need to give it the priority that it deserves.

Road accidents cost the country some RM7.8 billion or about 1.6 % of the gross domestic product (GDP).

They also cause untold misery, grief and suffering to those who lose their loved ones in these man-made tragedies.

The prime minister's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, was right when she said earlier this month that road accidents were a major cause for so many children being made orphans after their parents died in these accidents.

She said the number of orphans is growing by the day and there are over 300,000 such children raised in orphanages.

I personally know that Datuk Suret Singh, who just retired as the first director-general of the Road Safety Department that was set up in 2005, has been pushing hard to get the government to lay out these motorcycle lanes throughout the country.

Even Parliament was given an assurance by the then Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat that "the government would expedite the construction of motorcycle lanes to reduce road accident risks faced by motorcyclists and their pillion riders".

Ong has since lost his job and I can confirm that the assurance he gave in Parliament three years ago in a reply to a question by Titiwangsa MP Dr Lo'Lo' Mohammed, has yet to be fulfilled. Dr Lo' Lo' died last month.

Suret was quoted as saying in 2009 that Ong had written to Works Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor to give priority to this project.

Those in the Klang Valley are familiar with such lanes on both sides of the Federal Highway spanning Petaling Jaya, arguably one of the country's busiest, and where hardly any fatal accident involving motorcyclists and pillion riders has been reported for years.

Only 10% of our roads had motorcycle lanes in 2007, 20% in 2008 and expected to be 30% at end-2009.

It must have been a matter of great disappointment to Suret that he retired without seeing to more such lanes being built.

I would like to argue that most of the road safety efforts or campaigns that the department would be coming out with in future will have little impact, if dedicated motorbike lanes remain on the drawing-board.

There are about 9.4 million motorcycles in the country with some 7,000 shops selling bikes.

Indonesia, with about 10 times our population and higher motorcycle death figures, is seriously considering controlling the growing number of motorcycle ownership.

Its transport minister, Jusman Syafii Djamal, was reported as saying that the number of motorcycles must be controlled not by cutting production but through "regulatory measures".

In Malaysia, one of the surest means of putting into practice the "Rakyat Diutamakan" (People First) policy of our prime minister is through making it safer for our motorcyclists and pillion riders to travel daily on dedicated lanes, away from hazards posed by cars and trucks.

My advice to all motorcyclists is to keep to the left lane and don't zig-zag between cars; and to all motorists, please spare a thought for the safety of the two-wheelers.
I wish all Muslim readers of theSun, Selamat Hari Raya and safe journey.

Datuk Seri Azman Ujang is a former editor-in-chief of Bernama. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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