War on our roads kills 2X more than US invasion of Afghanistan

Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, 28,778 people died. Within the same duration in Malaysia 62,323 people lost their lives on our roads. With so many deaths and serious injuries we may liken this situation to a war. In many instances, whole families have been wiped out and yet most of us have remained largely insensitive, ignoring the sufferings of others. What are the agencies and policy makers doing? They have taken things too lightly, allowing the carnage to continue.

altIn the year 2000, the number of road accidents was 250,429 and last year it was 397,268. The number of fatalities grew from 6,035 in 2000 to 6,745 last year. The authorities keep harping on the fact that the fatality index has dropped from 5.7 to 3.55, with Malaysia ranked 46 out of 172 countries by the World Health Organization in fatalities per 10,000. This is no cause for rejoicing when we consider that each day on an average 18 lives are lost on Malaysian Roads, which makes it one of the highest in the world.

On an average 9,081 seriously injured road accident victims are admitted to orthopedic wards in our hospitals every year. Of this, 4,540 of them walk out with permanent disabilities, requiring life long support from social welfare and causing great sorrow and hardship to their families. Last year alone the total cost of road accidents in the country was estimated to be RM7.8bil. Therefore, prevention of road accidents should be treated as an investment.

Most vehicles are not designed safe and there is no way to know whether the tests done are sufficient. We also do not have a recall system for defective vehicles. Even such well engineered cars as Toyota and Honda suffered safety defects and had to be recalled recently by the millions overseas. Our locally manufactured cars need more stringent testing.

Speed, poor driving habits, attitude of motorists, congested roads, poor road conditions and lack of enforcement have contributed to accidents in Malaysia.

Risk taking and bad behavior, without concern for other road users has become our culture. The factors contributing to this culture are:

  • Pedestrians prefer crossing a dangerous road rather than go out of their way to take a pedestrian bridge or zebra crossing. Railings should be constructed along busy roads, with location of bridges and crossings at the proper locations;
  • Long hours spent by motorists on the road without breaks, congestion and extreme weather conditions cause fatigue and restlessness to motorists;
  • Impairment as a result of alcohol consumption, drug ingestion, infirmity, or natural aging. Malaysia is the 10th largest consumer of alcohol in the world and  45% of Malaysian youth consume alcohol. An estimated 2,698 people died due to drunk driving last year despite tough regulations in the form of fines and jail term. Vehicles should be installed with alcohol-ignition interlock systems that detect alcohol on the breath of drivers, preventing them from starting their engines;
  • Malaysians eating and texting messages while driving caused 1,318 fatal accidents in 2007;
  • Teenagers within the age group of 16 to 25 illegally drive their parents cars or motorcycles, often without consent and contribute to 41% of the total fatalities. Both parents and children should be made answerable with tough penalties;
  • Corruption at various levels in licensing and enforcement. Media have exposed how learner drivers have obtained driving licence without even sitting for their test and doctors issuing physical fitness certificates to commercial vehicle drivers without even examining them. Those caught issuing or receiving such licence should be jailed as that is tantamount to manslaughter;
  • Enforcement authorities have earned low level of respect as they sometimes practice double standards. Observers in Kuala Lumpur reported that enforcement officers let off government officials for not wearing seat belts but waved others to stop and slapped them with fines;
  • Frequent flip-flopping, back tracking on implementation and watering down of regulations and enforcement has not only confused motorists but has also emboldened them;
  • The most significant factor is poor enforcement. Law and enforcement should be tightened to make it to too expensive for motorists to break the laws. When licences are suspended or revoked and jail terms are made mandatory for law breakers, then life will become impossible for motorists and they will be forced to abide by the laws;

The Bukit Gantang express bus accident in the wee hours of August 2007 was probably the mother of all bus accidents in the country, which shocked everyone. However, it took several after-shocks to shake the authorities into action. The following still needs to be done:

  • Stop the wee-hour bus services;
  • A study should be undertaken to see whether the double-decker buses in use are suited for our roads. New permits should be withheld until the study is over and wearing of seat belt is made mandatory in all express buses;
  • Our local buses were found to have weak body structure, especially the roof design and poor seat anchorage which caused many fatalities during crashes. We have already adopted the UN ECE Regulations 66, 80 & 36 for bus design and construction about two years ago. These should be enforced in stages without further delay;
  • Enforce the Safety Health and Environment Code of Practice (SHE COP) developed in 2007 for proper commercial vehicle driver management without further delay.

Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) congratulate MIROS for developing the Malaysian Vehicle Assessment Program and initiating crash test for cars in February this year. However, as a country claiming to manufacture our own national cars and motorcycles, we are still lagging behind in many related areas:

  • Safety standards in this industry are badly wanting;
  • We need a recall system for defective vehicles. Elsewhere, Honda and Toyota recalled millions of cars for defective airbags, sticky pedals and steering rods, but nothing was heard of locally.
  • Sub-standard and fake spare parts are sold freely everywhere and should be taken off the shelves;
  • Our workshops should be regulated and mechanics should provide professional services;

In UK cars, motorcycles and light goods vehicles more than 3 years old after their first registration have to be inspected for roadworthiness, and thereafter at least once a year. Here the law is currently applied to commercial vehicles and during transfer of car ownership only;

According to studies and police records, potholes are the third highest cause of road fatalities after speeding and dangerous overtaking. They are even more dangerous in wet weather and at night when they are not clearly visible. 40% of fatalities were reported to have occurred on federal roads and more than 25% on state roads. The authorities should implement the 9 strategies recommended by the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP) which would provide a safe road environment. It is estimated that over a 20 year period 2,900 lives could be saved and 29,000 injuries avoided.

Many of our urban roads have been dug up by utility companies over and over again, damaging road foundations and never restored to the original condition. Heavy vehicles have done their part to cause further damage. Those responsible for this should be dealt with severely.

Though road safety is everyone’s business the government has to take the lead in stirring our country out of this mess. Evidently the authorities have taken too long to study, plan and implement necessary measures.

CAP urges policy makers and agencies to prioritize and give the highest possible attention to road safety and encourage public transport in the interest of reducing human suffering.

Press Statement, 6 July 2010