PETALING JAYA: Last Thursday alone, in the span of less than three hours from around 3.30am to 6am, 14 people were reported killed in horrific accidents on Malaysian roads.
In one accident, a family of four were killed on the spot when the driver of the car they were in lost control of his vehicle and collided with another car travelling from the opposite direction, near Ladang Geddes, Pahang.
In Kampar, a driver attempted to overtake another vehicle along the Ipoh-Kuala Lumpur trunk road but rammed a lorry. The accident claimed four lives, all college students.
Two other accidents took six other lives.
At first glance, the nation's road safety condition is distressing. In fact, it appears to accurately reflect a recent study by the University of Michigan listing Malaysia as the 17th most dangerous country for road users.
In 2012 alone, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) recorded 19 daily road fatalities, and many more survived with injuries.
However, the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) said that despite the fatalities, the state of road safety in Malaysia was not critical.
"As a whole, the situation is not as bad as projected, but we are not satisfied.
"As a nation grows closer to achieving a 'developed' status, the number of road accidents decrease. We hope to shorten the time it takes to reach that level," said Miros director-general Prof Wong Shaw Voon.
A major obstacle that Malaysia faces is the ratio of motorcycles to cars on the road, said Prof Wong.
"Currently, the number of cars and motorcycles is about 50-50. This is the worst scenario because of the high interaction between these two vehicles. Additionally, there is limited engineering space to improve safety on motorcycles and so we must rely heavily on helmets," he explained.
When it comes to accidents, motorcyclists are most at risk, making up an average of 60% of fatalities on the road followed by car occupants (about 25%) and pedestrians (about 10%), according to data from the Malaysian Road Safety Department (JKJR).
When asked what the main cause of road accidents was, Prof Wong said that there was never just one reason for a crash, but rather a combination of factors.
"We must take into consideration the driver, the condition of the car and the road environment. If any of these three factors change, the outcome and severity of the crash also change," he explained.
The US study, released early February, records 30 road fatalities per 100,000 individuals for Malaysia for the year 2008. The safest nation for road drivers was said to be the Maldives with only two road fatalities per 100,000 individuals.
"To me, the compilation of information and the way the research was carried out is not appropriate. There are many other factors which come into play when determining road safety," said Prof Wong.
Additionally, the data set used for the research is suspicious. It could be an informal estimate of the number of road fatalities," he added.
"There is a well established report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) called the Global Status Report on Road Safety. Why did they not refer to these statistics but to something else?" he asked.
In the publication, university researchers looked to the WHO's Disease and Injury Country Estimates for data.
The research was conducted to analyse the correlation between road fatalities and fatalities from other leading causes such as malignant neoplasm (cancer) and ischaemic heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease.
To compare, in the 2007 WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety, Malaysia only recorded approximately 23.5 fatalities per 100,000 people. Official national records for 2008 from Malaysian police, released by JKJR, also sees 23.5 fatalities.
The difference of 6.5 fatalities is significant, as it would take Malaysia out of the study's 25-most-dangerous list.
"However, this is by no means a figure to be proud of as we are still a long way from the achievements of other developed nations. A lot of work still needs to be done," said JKJR in a statement to The Star Online.
To find the best statistics, a comprehensive compilation of all road indexes should be made, including the absolute number of fatalities, total population (including illegal immigrants), number of vehicles and distance travelled per driver, said Prof Wong.
But even these methods of calculation are not 100% accurate and can only give a close estimate, he explained, especially since Malaysia hosts a large number of illegals.
In addressing the uphill task of increasing road safety, the Government is pushing for improvement on road safety education and enforcement, in addition to looking at engineering and environment concerns.
According to Miros, the Government is targeting a 50% reduction of road fatalities by the year of 2020.
To achieve that goal, all parties must play their part.
In its effort, Malaysia will have to deal with an array of issues, namely education in road safety, concluded Prof Wong.