Your 10 Questions with Datuk Suret Singh


  • Business
  • Saturday, 10 Apr 2010

1. What is the awareness level of road safety among Malaysians compared with other Asean countries? – Bernard KH Lim, Penang

There is no comparative study so far on the relative level of road safety awareness among Asean countries. The Road Safety Department’s (JKJR or Jabatan Keselamatan Jalan Raya) core business is changing the mindset and behaviour of our road users from a Third World to a First World mentality. I concede that this change cannot be achieved overnight. We expect significant changes over 10 to 15 years. In the last five years, we have seen some visible changes such as more people using seatbelts, helmets, visibility enhancement materials and child safety seats. Consumer preference is also shifting in favour of cars with airbags, antilock braking system, etc.

Certainly, the awareness level of road safety among Malaysians is improving as can be seen in the reduction of injury accidents by 42% between 2004 and 2009. JKJR is also continuously educating the public through road safety education in schools, media campaigns and community-based programmes such as helmet exchange, seat belt advocacy, tyre and brake safety, and visibility enhancement, especially for motorcyclists.

However, increasing the awareness level leads only partially to change in behaviour and practice. For full compliance, education needs the support of effective enforcement of traffic laws. Fortunately, this is now unfolding through a proposed Automated Enforcement System (AES), which will target speed and red light violations for all categories of drivers. The pilot AES project begins in May in Perak and Selangor. Nationwide implementation is scheduled for September 2010.

2. What are your department’s recent major initiatives to reduce road accidents and what have been the main success stories? – Ken Yew, Malacca

The JKJR’s recent major initiatives include the compulsory usage of tyres complying with Sirim (Malaysian Standard), ECE (European Standard) and DOT (American Standard) as of Jan 1, 2010. Other initiatives include the mandatory wearing of rear seat belts as of Jan 1, 2009, working with the industry to promote the proper usage of Sirim-certified helmets or equivalent international standard helmets and also working towards making vehicle brakes comply with either Sirim, ECE or DOT standard by July 1, 2010.

Our main success story is our work with the Education Ministry and the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) to introduce road safety education for an hour per week as part of teaching Bahasa Melayu in schools. We have progressed to Year 4 students and we plan to extend it to Year 6 this year. This is most exciting because through this programme, we are successfully nurturing a First World road safety mindset among schoolchildren.

3. Twenty years ago, it was rare to see motorists flouting traffic rules. Today, it’s an accepted fact of life. Has the system failed? – Adrian Ng, Selangor

Failure only becomes apparent and final when effort and creative interventions stop. As long as the JKJR and our partners have the passion and the vision to be world-class, failure is merely an opportunity that reveals itself as to what does not work. We in the JKJR believe that the continuous and collective team effort of all stakeholders will support the fulfilment of our road safety vision for Malaysia. Twenty years ago, the vehicle population was very much lower and the enforcement agencies were able to cope with coverage over a limited road network. Over the years, the increase in road kilometres has greatly outpaced the resource availability and capability of our enforcement personnel. As such, the Perception of Being Caught (POBC) for committing a traffic offence among road users has dropped to between 25% and 49% in recent years. Road users are more brazen in committing traffic offences. Under AES, we are targeting to raise the POBC to 75% initially and to 95% within two years of implementation.

4. If you can name only one root cause for road mishaps in Malaysia, what would it be, and why is it so hard to overcome? – LG Tan, Kuantan

The main cause of road mishaps in Malaysia is speed violation. Almost 60% of accidents are speed-related. Speed violation will be the prime target of speed cameras we are installing by September. I am confident our AES programme will effectively tackle the issue of rampant speed violation.

5. Can strict enforcement and harsh punishment really deter those drivers who ignore the law? – Henry Vijayan

The key words are effective enforcement. Stricter laws and harsher penalties will not count for much if traffic offenders are not caught and apprehended. However, increasing the probability of being caught with effective enforcement will definitely deter road users from flaunting the law. Strict enforcement will make Malaysians value their driver’s licence as they value their passport. In the developed world, for serious offences, driving licences are taken away immediately. I wish to see this happening in Malaysia. Action to curb recklessness should be severe and uncompromising.

6. You’ve been working in the field of road safety for many years. What keeps you going when it often seems that Malaysian road users are not improving at all? – K.P. Balan, Seremban

I do not agree that Malaysian road users are not improving. Statistics indicate there is significant improvement in the rate of injury and fatality despite the high growth of vehicle and driver population. I am driven by the fact that despite the huge challenges, the road safety team is able to make changes and achieve progress. Every life saved and every injury reduced are blessings. Often, I meet people on the streets who tell me, “Keep it up. You are doing a good job.” Their good wishes warm my heart and make light work of our difficult moments.

Even though the absolute figure for road fatalities in 2009 of 6,700 is high, the number of victims sustaining injuries due to road accidents has been reduced by 42% from 54,000 persons injured in 2004 to 31,000 in 2009. This initial success drives the road safety team in JKJR and Miros and our stakeholder agencies to work even harder. I always tell myself it is small drops that make a mighty ocean. Small victories will one day lead us to the fulfilment of the Malaysia Road Safety Vision that we dream of through our daily efforts.

7. I noticed that JKJR campaign focuses heavily on motorcyclists especially on helmet wearing. Why is that? – Gabriel Thomas, KL

Motorcyclists make up 60% of the vehicles on the road and they are the highest risk group among road users. Out of 6,745 fatalities last year, 4,067 involved motorcyclists. The main cause of death for motorcyclists is head injuries and the only form of protection that a motorcyclist has against head injuries is a reliable and safe helmet. That is why the JKJR is constantly promoting the proper usage of Sirim-certified helmets or equivalent international standard helmets. There is a catch. The best helmet will not protect a rider in an accident if it’s not securely fastened.

Dear riders, Malaysia has a severe shortage of neurosurgeons whose intervention your life depends on when you have a brain injury. And we are assuming the ambulance can get you to the hospital in record time. Please buckle up! Your life depends on it!

8. In terms of effectiveness and reach, how is JKJR different from the Road Safety Council? – Karim Sazali, Petaling Jaya

The JKJR is a one-stop government agency involved in coordinating and implementing policies and road safety strategies and programmes based on global best practices. The Road Safety Council is an NGO comprising diversified members from the Government, private sectors and other NGOs. Its main role is to support and complement the efforts of the JKJR by mobilising the private sector and the community to support all government road safety initiatives and programmes.

9. What can be done with traffic signs to make them more effective in improving road safety? – Kim de Souza, Gombak

At a recent road safety talk given to Public Works Department road maintenance engineers, I showed slides of confusing signs as you leave the KL International Airport after the toll plaza as you are driving back to KL. There are three sets of signages at the junction – left is to KL, centre to KL, and right also to KL. And then I showed them the brake marks of drivers trying to figure their way. Malaysia needs a national review of signages, which are designed by different road authorities without an overall integrated approach. Also, currently, some of the traffic signs are too wordy and crowded with too much information. There are also too many traffic signs placed at intersections. Junctions should have minimal signboards strategically placed for maximum visibility. Intersection signage is very critical to properly guide traffic from the four points of an intersection. Another critical factor is there should be an unobstructed vision. Billboards are a strict NO-NO for junctions as they are a visibility hazard. Landscape should be trimmed to below the effective angle of vision of drivers to eradicate blind spots.

10. What do you see that saddens you the most when you are on the road? – T. Kumar, Bandar Utama

What saddens me most is to see a law enforcement officer just watching as somebody passes by not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet, beating a red light, jumping queue or using a handphone while driving. To be fair, this does not always happen, but it happens often enough. From January 2010, enforcement of traffic laws has been stepped up, and hopefully, we are fast approaching a new era where every critical traffic offence will attract a summon. My happiest moments are when schoolchildren give me impromptu feedback at social encounters. They’ll ask, “Are you so and so?” And they say things such as, “I always use a seat belt” or “When my daddy beats a red light, I tell him it’s wrong”. And some ask for autographs.

NEXT

Do you have a burning question you’d like to ask high-profile and interesting personalities? Then, this is your chance. Our next interviewee is politician and lawyer KARPAL SINGH. E-mail questions to 10questions@thestar.com.my

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