Adopt zero tolerance for road crashes


CAP is deeply saddened by the recent spate of bus crashes and that the Malaysian authorities are unable to stop the killing on our roads. The authorities are plainly inept and irresponsible in their “inability” to stop our road carnage.

 About 19 people are killed in the 1,267 road crashes that happen in Malaysia daily. If this does not warrant drastic emergency and comprehensive measures, we don’t know what else will shake up our authorities from their complacency. We need measures that will work to stop the road killings now. If road deaths are given the same media and public scrutiny as flight MH370, we are sure the authorities will be awakened and forced to act. The loss of lives from road crashes is equivalent to a loss of flight MH370 every 12 days.

The desensitisation of road deaths and crashes is a major problem that we have to address. We cannot allow road crashes to be taken off our radar of public health and safety. We cannot afford to lose lives in such a needless and heedless way. It pains us tremendously to feel the tragic losses of the victims of this road carnage. We are not able to accept the more than hundred thousand deaths over the years. Since 1995 to 2013, Malaysia lost 119,763 lives through road crashes. Such deaths are preventable.

The measures taken by the authorities so far are simply not good enough as road deaths in Malaysia are increasing each year. All our measures seemed to have failed to reduce the road killings.

Road crashes and deaths are NOT ACCIDENTS. When we term road crashes as road accidents, we are assuming that they cannot be managed. It also encourages a culture of acceptance since we assume that nothing can be done about them. Road crashes are a result of bad transport policies, poor road designs, faulty vehicles, bad urban planning, poor enforcement and ultimately, the lack of political will to implement strong and drastic measures to curb road crashes.

The Genting bus crash exposed many of the weaknesses in the system which have remained neglected all these years. However, this only engendered ad hoc and knee jerk responses from the authorities. After that crash in August 2013 we have seen at least 19 more bus crashes, killing 17 passengers and injuring 260 others. Today we still complain of speeding, sleepy and bus drivers on drugs, while the proposal to make it mandatory for commercial vehicles to be installed with electronic speed controllers remains a dream.

What we need is a comprehensive overhaul of our road transport system and a systematic and holistic approach to address the tragic losses from road crashes. We cannot afford half-hearted measures and compromises in our mission to reduce road crashes.

The Genting bus crash report revealed poor documentation, communication and efficiency
among the various transport bodies. We already have a Cabinet Committee on Road Safety, Department of Road Safety (JKJR), Road Safety Council (MKJR) and Malaysian Institute of
Road Safety Research (MIROS) which are directly related to road safety. We also have Road Transport Department (JPJ), Public Works Department (JKR), the police and Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) which are indirectly related to road safety. Their efforts had been ineffective in stopping road crashes in Malaysia. Instead, we need a single high-level body to direct and coordinate road safety efforts across the different ministries and sectors.

ZERO TOLERANCE for deaths and injuries on our roads is the only way. We must adopt the highest standards and goals for road safety.

We must follow the example of Sweden which is among those countries with the lowest number of traffic fatalities in relation to its population. In 1997 the Swedish Parliament introduced a new approach to road safety called “Vision Zero”. Vision Zero is based on a refusal to accept deaths or suffering as a result of road traffic accidents and it requires fatalities and serious injuries to be reduced to zero by 2020. From 1990 to 2010, Sweden reduced its disease burden due to road injuries by 30%.

Conventionally, transport systems are designed for maximum capacity and mobility, not safety. This means that road users are held responsible for their own safety. This conventional transport approach had caused millions of death yearly and the toll will get even bigger. According to the World Health Organization, there were 1.24 million deaths worldwide in 2010 from road crashes. In 2030, the figure will escalate to 2 million yearly making it the fifth leading cause of death, from ninth in 2010. Our present transport systems are inherently violent as they are designed to encourage speeding, leading to faster cars, road with multiple lanes, road widening, one-way traffic – at the expense of road safety. They will have to be tamed and overhauled to make safety as the overriding objective, above mobility and capacity.

Under the concept of Vision Zero the loss of human life and health from road crashes is unacceptable. This requires the road transport system to be designed to prevent such an event occurring. The blame for fatalities in the road system is assigned to the failure of the road system rather that the road user. In other words, the system must be designed to take care of all human errors.

For example, findings have shown that pedestrians or cyclists may not survive if a vehicle is travelling over 30km/hr. Therefore if higher speeds are desired in specific urban areas, the option would be to build separate pedestrian crossings or segregate cyclists from vehicular traffic. If not, traffic calming measures like introducing speed bumps, narrowing the streets through the introduction of wider pedestrian walkways, bicycle or bus lanes or curb bulb outs can be implemented to reduce the speed of vehicles to a maximum of 30 km/h.

Mitigating road fatalities and injuries requires long-term investments and resources to build a total systems approach towards road safety through targeted interventions. This is necessary given the multisectoral complexity of road safety. It demands a systematic approach rather than ad hoc measures.

Last but not least, strong political will and commitment are needed to address this horror of 19 road deaths that we are facing daily. In the state of Kerala, India we have an example of what it means to have the political will and commitment to get something accomplished.

Rishi Raj Singh, Kerala’s Transport Commissioner, laid strict rules for driving on the state’s chaotic and murderous roads and within 3 months brought down accidents and deaths by 40% according to police records. One man could accomplish that much, but we have 8 bodies dealing with road safety here in Malaysia and all we experience is a worsening situation.

Act now to stop the killing on our roads.

Letter to the press, 29 May 2014