What we can do to prevent road traffic accidents


Falling asleep at the wheel is clearly dangerous, but being sleepy affects your ability to drive safely even if you don’t fall asleep. — 123rf.com

As we live near a major highway, we can observe the traffic conditions on it from our condo window.

It is a busy road, and sometimes, we have witnessed accidents involving motorbikes and cars – even a row of several cars – especially during rush hours and rainy days.

Since last year (2020) with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and implementation of the movement control order, the highway has become less congested, and occasionally, very quiet.

Recently, for the first time in a long while, we noticed the aftermath of an accident involving a motorbike.

A man was lying on the road, unmoving; his motorbike fallen, a few feet away from him.

A few car drivers and motorbike riders had stopped to help him and direct the traffic away from the site of the accident.

We are unsure if the motorbike had been in an accident with a car or if the bike had skidded and fell by itself.

Minutes later, the police and ambulance arrived and carried the man off.

We hope he is doing well and has suffered no major injuries.

Following that scene, several thoughts crossed our minds revolving around road accidents.

Even if someone involved in a road accident could be discharged from the hospital in a few days, there will be a cost for the medical fees and absence from work or their own business.

And what if the person becomes disabled after the accident?

He or she could suffer from a potentially significant social and economic impacts on their life.

Driver error

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Road Safety Report, approximately 1.35 million people die in road crashes each year.

On average, 3,700 people lose their lives daily on the roads.

Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to individuals, their families and the nation.

Based on the value of statistical life (VOSL) for the year 2018 estimated by the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), the Government lost at least RM3.12mil for each life.

According to data from the Transport Ministry, the number of road accidents in Malaysia has increased over the last decade.

More than half a million accidents with over 6,000 deaths were reported in 2019.

Fortunately, the death rate has been in a steady reduction from a peak of 7,152 in 2016.

With an average of 18 persons killed in road accidents every day in Malaysia, these incidents constitute a serious public health challenge to the nation.

Many road traffic accidents have multifactorial causes, including the driver, traffic, vehicle condition, road, weather and lighting.

However, the vast majority (94%) are mainly due to the driver(s), including reckless driving behaviour and non-performance error (i.e. falling asleep while driving).

Only 6% of accidents are due to other factors.

Modifying risk factors

We do not have much control over the weather, lighting, road conditions and traffic, but we can modify the risks caused by the ourself as the driver and our vehicle condition.

While driving, a driver should always have a safe driving attitude, on top of good driving skills.

We also shouldn’t forget our physical and mental health.

Working the whole day with various stresses and few rest breaks tires our bodies, creating tension and fatigue.

Shift work, stress, and the use of media and electronic devices before sleep, have been reported as major contributing factors for sleep deprivation.

It is important to have sufficient sleep and rest, as sleep deprivation is a significant factor in major road traffic accidents worldwide.

Studies have reported that sleepiness and fatigue contribute to 20-30% of road accidents on monotonous roads.

When we are alert, we can exercise good judgement by taking appropriate action according to the traffic, road and weather conditions.

Sleepiness and fatigue slow down our reactions, making us more vulnerable to accidents.

It is advisable to reduce driving at night, dusk or dawn when visibility is more limited, and to use caution when driving in rain or fog, and on a slippery road.

Using mobile phones while driving is also a major contributor to accidents as it distracts drivers from giving full attention to their driving.

It is also important to plan your journey well, especially if it’s a long drive (see infographic below).

In a sense, road accidents are similar to medical conditions.

Like accidents, diseases are usually caused by a combination of unmodifiable and modifiable risk factors

By managing modifiable risk factors like diet, body weight and physical activity, we can reduce our chances of falling ill.

Similarly, by managing modifiable risk factors like ensuring we are alert and well enough to drive, and our vehicle is safe and performing optimally, we can reduce our chances of being in an accident.

Let us not lose more people to accidents that can be easily prevented.

Let us all drive safely together.

Dr Thidar Aung is an associate professor of biochemistry/immunology and Personal Mentor Programme head at the Perdana University-Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland School of Medicine, while Dr Wana Hla Shwe is an associate professor of internal medicine and Clinical Clerkships director at Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine. This article is courtesy of Perdana University, which is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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