Members of the public want abandoned vehicles removed immediately but the process is not as straightforward as it seems.
A second-hand imported car dealer in Jalan Kelang Lama, Kuala Lumpur, turned up for work one morning to find a mangled vehicle at the entrance of his open-air showroom.
The metal corpse stayed there for seven days and he said it was the third time an accident wreck was left at their doorstep.
He added that left-behind wreck was clearly a safety hazard. Besides motorists slowing down to rubberneck caused traffic jams, smithereens of shattered glass and protruding metal put pedestrians at risk of injury.
Sundram Sathia, 67, a nearby resident, said accident debris should be cleared as soon as possible.
“Not only does such a sight scare onlookers, it is clearly blocking the way,” he said.
The complaint above is far from unique and cases of abandoned accident vehicles are not new.
Based on statistics from the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), there were 476,196 road crashes in 2014.
The numbers are expected to rise in the coming years as the population increases.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) operations room officer Salina Shaharum clued us in on how many vehicles end up estranged from their drivers after a mishap on the road.
“We get 30 to to 40 calls a day from the public, complaining about abandoned vehicles left in their area,” she said.
There are many reasons why accident cars are left behind, said Federal Territory and Selangor Automobile Repairers Association (FTSARA) deputy chairman Chan Kiam Ming.
One of Chan’s deductions is that the driver may be so badly injured that he is unable to report the accident to either the police or insurance company.
Assuming the hospital is able to contact his next of kin, they’d be more worried about the driver than the car.
Or, he might not have his vehicle documents in order. Drivers have been known to operate vehicles without road tax. The driver may also not be owner of the vehicle.
Another scenario is that he might not have any identification with him at the time of the accident, which might have made it hard for the hospital to establish his identity or trace his next of kin if he was unconscious.
This can be complicated if the vehicle only has third party insurance. This means the owner will have to bear the cost of repairing (and towing) the stricken vehicle.
All the above situations point to hitches in obtaining valid authorisation for the vehicle to be removed from the scene.
“A tow truck operator who tows away a vehicle without the owner’s permission can be charged with theft,” said FTSARA vice-president Yap Koon Leong.
The entities legally allowed to tow a vehicle away are the vehicle’s owner, his next of kin, an insurance company acting on the owner’s instruction, the town council and the police.
The police will only take a vehicle if it is required as evidence in a case.
A complaint from a member of the public is required for the council to act.
This leaves a large part of the responsibility to the owner and his insurance company.
While the towing rule had been effective in protecting accident victims from “losing” their wheels, FTSARA vice-president Yong Kok Beng said it had inadvertently left workshops vulnerable.
Yong said the problem did not end after the vehicle was towed to the workshop.
“Disputes over insurance claims, an owner’s unwillingness to collect a vehicle after repairs are done or inability to make payments, may see a vehicle being left in a workshop for as long as two years.
“The growing number of cases are eating up space in workshops which can be better utilised for repairs,” he said.
For now, the solution is to follow a legal process of sending notices to the owner to retrieve his vehicle and make payment, failing which, the vehicle will be sold for spare parts or scrap metal.
The FTSARA officials point out that workshops are left with the problem of space and the wrath of local bylaws as councils may issue them with summonses for harbouring Aedes mosquitoes.
Heat is also coming from environmentalist as the fluids leaking from vehicles are not only carcinogenic but mutagenic as well.
“The authorities need to step in and come up with a solution.
“This is because they are the only ones with the resources to trace the owner.
“Even if the vehicle is stolen and the registration plate is false or the chassis number has been tampered with, the authorities have the expertise to conduct chemical tests to trace the owners,” said Yong.
He further said that a proper disposal plan for abandoned vehicles was needed.
“Just take a look at the number of wrecks and abandoned vehicles in the police and council yards. They are running out of space.
“I have a 650sq m yard and with up to three or four cases a day, I am finding it hard to accommodate,” he said.
A vehicle yard beside the Dengkil rest area reflects the severity of the problem.
The land beside the rest stop, measuring about 0.4ha, is now a storage for accident wrecks removed from PLUS highway.
At rough estimate, there are some 30 wrecks occupying the space.
A PLUS official said they were required by law to hold the vehicles for five years before recycling.
The time frame is to allow the authorities to trace the owners. But many times investigations come to a dead end because owners have not updated addresses.
Corporal Nordin Yahya from the police traffic division said that in many cases of abandoned accident wrecks, no reports were made.
The silver lining here is even if the vehicle has been written off as a total loss, there is hope for parties who have taken the responsibility to house these wrecks to recover some money for their trouble.
At Yong’s workshop in Sungai Buloh, where written-off vehicles occupy some 50% of his 464.5sq m yard, 40% will be able to yield income in the form of used spare parts. The remainder 10% can be sold off as scrap metal.
The income is not small. Figures given by the Malaysia Automotive Institute said the used vehicles spare part industry had in 2012 employed some 250,000 workers, who contributed to a throughput of RM28.5bil.
The public can take a proactive stand to rid our roads of these grim eyesores – by complaining to their respective councils.
DBKL, for example, will tow vehicles away following public complaints of traffic obstruction.
One of the depots operated by DBKL in Salak South is a graveyard for abandoned vehicles.
The public is advised send photos and locations of these wrecks via whatsapp to 019-212 0031 or 013-666 3255 for action to be taken. According to DBKL, it takes about three to four days before it is towed to the local authority’s depot.