KUALA LUMPUR: We all can breathe a huge sigh of relief that Malaysians don't live within the so-called geographical "Ring of Fire" which is prone to natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
But wait a minute, just look at the grim statistics for man-made disasters or more specifically the number of people who die on our roads – averaging 6,700 annually and growing.
Malaysia has one of the world's highest car ownership ratio and along with it a very bad road safety record. This despite spending millions for all kinds of road safety campaigns and a specific agency called the Road Safety Department staffed by experts.
In a horrific tragedy on Saturday, a car ploughed into a group of some 30 to 40 cyclists, killing eight teenagers and injuring eight others.
Those killed were only between 13 and 16 years old. Just imagine: they were riding along a dark, hilly stretch of the Middle Ring Road near, of all places, a Muslim cemetery.
For Johor Baru residents or in other cities and towns so used to watching these daredevil cyclists out for a joyride, it was a tragedy waiting to happen and it did.
Although our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones of these victims, we cannot avoid our conscience being pricked by the scale of yet another road menace in our midst.
We already have the uniquely Malaysian "Mat Rempit" culture involving young people racing on their motorcycles at daredevil speed with "superman stunts" thrown in and usually at ungodly hours and during weekends, giving lots and lots of headaches to the traffic cops.
The police must have seized hundreds upon hundreds of their motorbikes all these years in the hope that such action would be a deterrent but the menace goes on unabated.
And now we are seeing a rather new road "culture" or menace that has clearly manifested itself in the Johor Baru tragedy.
Videos showing riders on modified bicycles dubbed basikal nyamuk (mosquito bicycles) went viral among WhatsApp groups shortly after the JB incident and they are bone-chilling to say the least.
In one of the videos, cyclists were seen riding in the middle of a city road in acrobatic fashion, completely oblivious to the dangers to themselves and other road users.
Let me share one posting on the social media by a traffic policeman on this latest cycling craze or even madness that seems to have gone out of control. By this, I mean parental control.
In the case of Saturday's tragedy, the cop wrote that these boys not only came from JB but from as far as Plentong, Masai, Tampoi, Kempas, Skudai, Tiram and Kota Tinggi.
They would gather in JB during weekends and defy police orders on loud hailers to disperse. At times, the cops would lose their cool and chuck away some of the bikes in order to discourage them from repeating their dangerous activity but to no avail.
These boys even went to the extent of shouting verbal insults at the cops who would be left stunned by their acts of riding not on the safe lanes but right in the middle of the road.
Some of the boys are barely 10 years old. "We have tried our best to give all kinds of advice but all have fallen on deaf ears. But when a tragedy like this happened, I'm sure many would blame the police for not taking tough action on these boys. We are just wondering where are their parents?" said the posting.
Following Saturday's self-inflicted tragedy, no less than the Sultan of Johor himself met the parents of the victims at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital mortuary to give them words of comfort.
Parents of such wayward kids prone to risking their lives in the most reckless manner should take heed very seriously of Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar's strong words when he said, "Biar mereka yang menangis, jangan kita yang menangis" (Let them cry rather than us crying later). I have lost a son, so I know how it feels."
The Sultan lost his son, Tunku Abdul Jalil, 25, due to liver cancer over a year ago. And this equally potent royal statement: "I am shocked and saddened by this needless loss of lives. I wish to remind parents to watch over their children, especially their activities after dark."
It's just beyond comprehension what really goes on in the minds of these boys who have no regard whatsoever about the value of life.
And this new menace of "Mat Rempit" on bicycles is certainly a cause for genuine concern and all sides must do whatever it takes to stop it in its tracks before more horrific tragedies strike. – Bernama