Traffic law enforcement should not be seasonal

Year after year we have Ops Sikap, now changed to Ops Selamat, to stop the carnage from our road crashes during our festive seasons. Malaysia was ranked 20th globally for the most road deaths in 2011, according to the World Health Organization. Eighteen people are killed daily in road crashes and according to the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS), the figure is expected to rise to 29 by 2020.

According to the traffic police chief, Mohd Fuad Abdul Latiff, the previous Ops Sikap didn’t work because the police advised the public to drive slowly, don’t jump queue and be patient. Ops Selamat, however, is about total enforcement. He cautioned that enough warnings have been given and on-the-spot action would be taken against errant motorists. Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP), welcomes the strict enforcement and hopes to see a positive reduction in road crashes this Hari Raya.

However, traffic law enforcement should not be seasonal. Strict enforcement must be an on-going, not a seasonal ritual to coincide with festivals.

Malaysia does not have a good record in traffic law enforcement. According to the WHO, the enforcement of laws in Malaysia related to speed limits, drink-driving, motorcycle helmets and seat belts was ranked between 4 to 5 in a range of 0 to 10. Singapore’s enforcement was ranked between 7 to 9.

Strict traffic law enforcement is partly responsible for the low traffic fatalities in Singapore where there are only 4 deaths per 100,000 population. Malaysia has about 24 deaths per 100,000 population. In 2013 Singapore saw an annual 10.6% decrease in the number of fatal and injury accidents on their roads. Meanwhile in 2012 Malaysia had an annual 2.98% increase in the number of road accidents.

Due to lax traffic law enforcement among other reasons, the POBC (Perception of Being Caught) rate among Malaysian road users is low, at a 25% rate on regular days and a 50% rate during the festive seasons when there are road safety operations. In developed countries, the POBC rate is between 80-90%.

The effectiveness of POBC can be seen when Malaysians motorists drive in Singapore and abide by the laws. Yet when Singaporeans, who tend to be law abiding, drive over here they also know how to break the laws just like Malaysian drivers, because like us, they are aware that enforcement here is weak.

We have to raise the POBC rate to a high level to instil discipline among Malaysian drivers and to do this we have to drastically improve our culture of enforcement among our authorities and reduce the culture of lawlessness among our drivers. Our enforcement of traffic laws has been lackadaisical, inefficient, corrupt and seasonal, leading to motorists not fearing the laws and breaking them at will. This deadly behaviour contributes to the high road crashes here. Motorists simply do not fear being caught as traffic summonses are often not paid, can be negotiated or cancelled through corruption and even discounts can be officially given.

The Automated Enforcement System (AES) should be implemented after removing all its weaknesses by opening its planning and implementation for public scrutiny and fine-tuning. It has to be accepted by the public for it to be successful. If it is seen by them to be impartial, fair and practical, we feel that law-abiding Malaysians will give it their full support, as the AES had been seen to be successful, both in raising the POBC rates and in bringing down traffic crashes in 90 other countries. If properly implemented, without any manipulation, it will also bring down the levels of corruption in traffic law enforcement. And the AES, which is not seasonal enforcement, changes road driver behaviour over the long term.

The success of enforcement depends on its ability to create a deterrent threat to road users and in changing road user behaviour. Many studies have shown that increasing and sustaining enforcement reduces road accidents and fatalities. The authorities must have the commitment and political will to implement the changes.

CAP calls on the transport authorities to take the following steps to improve enforcement of traffic laws, as it is the most important requirement for road safety:

1. Stop corruption in the implementation and enforcement in the transport system as it threatens safety on our roads. A special investigation unit should be set up to curb corruption in the transport system. It should cover traffic offences, road worthiness of vehicles, overloading, driver testing, licensing irregularities, vehicle inspections, among other areas of concern. Better technological systems should also be developed to prevent corruption.

2. Invest resources to increase all year round enforcement of traffic laws instead of just seasonal campaigns.

3. Implement the AES after transparent consultations and feedback from the public. An independent panel should be set up to design the implementation of the AES. The AES ultimately needs public support if it is to be successful.

4. Increased police presence and the use of technology like the AES should be implemented to create a higher rate of Perception of Being Caught.

5. Ultimately, transport policies need to be revamped, with major efforts to reduce vehicles on the road and reduce exposure of road users to road crashes, by migrating to public transport preferably the Bus Rapid Transit.

Press Statement, 24 July 2014