MCO, mental health and road safety

Changing for the better together: Lee (centre) and Azman (right) speaking at PLUS Malaysia’s first ever virtual Safety Day 2020. — Photo provided

THE Covid-19 pandemic raised various new safety challenges in our lives in 2020, including on the roads.

While the movement control order (MCO) restricted our movements as we stayed home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, it has also meant a higher demand for delivery services of daily essentials and food. And with fewer cars on the road due to the MCO, many of these delivery workers flouted traffic laws, said Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

“Corporations and businesses were impacted as the MCO demanded physical distancing, and the work from home (WFH) order had to be followed as the National Security Council and Health Ministry established the precedent to lessen and eliminate human contact and interaction, ” he said.

“WFH led to a demand for food deliveries to homes. With fewer cars on the road and increased food orders, I observed that many rushed in delivering food and flouted traffic laws, like beating the red lights and many more manoeuvres that endanger lives.”

Lee was one of the speakers at PLUS Malaysia Berhad’s first ever virtual Safety Day, which was held in December 2020. It was attended by over 2,000 online participants including personnel from highway concessionaires, the Malaysian Highway Authority and numerous agencies.

Themed #BerubahBersama, the recent event highlighted safety challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic that went beyond the medical arena.

Weighing in on the issue of the effects of MCO on road safety, PLUS managing director Datuk Azman Ismail pointed out that accidents involving heavy vehicles (Class 2 and 3) had increased about 5% last year compared with 2019. He said that this could be due to “long and extended working hours as well as fatigue”.

Referring to Lee’s point on safety violations by food delivery personnel, Road Safety Research Institute (Miros) chairman Datuk Suret Singh noted that sudden lane changes without proper lane-change routines as well as running red lights must be part of the SOPs to be enforced. He added that Miros has engaged the key industry players for a joint safety agenda and action plan which covers rider education, behaviour monitoring, and enforcement.

Another speaker, consultant psychiatrist at Malaya University and UMCares director Assoc Prof Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin, underscored that the pandemic has also led to a “hidden” pandemic of mental health.

According to Dr Amer, much has been written on the role of road traffic accidents in the development of mental health issues and illnesses. However, the reverse, the role of mental health in road traffic accidents, has not been highlighted as much. In fact, researchers have discovered that poor mental health might lead to increase in accidents.

He also noted that stress and poor sleep are the most common mental health issues that can lead to problems on the road.

It is important that society acknowledges and addresses this hidden pandemic as its impact is not only seen at a personal and organisational level but also within the community, he stressed.

For individuals, understanding their mental health situation can save their life and others, Dr Amer said.

Concurring with Dr Amer, Azman said: “Everyone has mental health, but some require deeper intervention and timely inter-vention is crucial as it impacts safety on roads and highways.

“We have seen some driving behaviours that are often evident on municipality roads have also transcended onto the highway. That is where the HSSE (Health, Safety, Security and Environment policy) comes in and today the H is not only physical health but mental as well.”

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