Pothole-free roads can save lives

ACCIDENTS and deaths caused by vehicles going over potholes are not something new in this country.

Such cases have been highlighted repeatedly over the years, but the public’s many complaints always seem to fall on deaf ears, with repairs taking weeks, even months if not years, in some cases.

It took just one VIP falling at an uneven road to not only get an effusive apology from the district’s Public Works Department (JKR) but also a pledge to fix the pothole, which was duly done in record time.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin sustained facial injuries when he fell off his bicycle after riding over a depression in a road in Banting, Selangor, on Dec 27. When the Kuala Langat district JKR apologised and repaired the road in less than 24 hours following his tweet, Malaysians took to social media to sarcastically call for ministers to cycle in their districts so that their roads could be repaired as efficiently too.

The matter lost any humour when a week after Khairy’s accident, 75-year-old motorcyclist Ho Yan Fee was killed on Jan 3 after his bike hit a pothole near the Mid Valley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur. This was followed by another death, on Jan 4, when a 31-year-old delivery rider lost control of his motorcycle and crashed after running into a road defect in Petaling Jaya.

The families of these two ordinary citizens did not merit a public apology nor did the authorities concerned – KL City Hall and PJ City Council – acknowledge any responsibility or reassure road users of their commitment to repair the roads.

A study by a local university in 2017 showed that 11.25% of the 65,000 road traffic deaths – that’s over 7,000 deaths – recorded between 2000 and 2011 were attributed to road defects, and potholes were listed third on the list, causing 15.4% of such fatalities, more than 1,000 deaths. Obviously, there is a pressing need to address this long-standing issue that has claimed so many lives.

The authorities – that means everyone involved, from the department or agency serving the public to local councils and government departments – have to come together to address public complaints about potholes and road defects, and they cannot be selective when carrying out repairs.

They must act swiftly instead of taking their own sweet time or pushing the responsibility from one department to another. They must take responsibility for ensuring road users’ safety, and if people are injured or even die due to repairs left undone, they must be held accountable.

They must also be responsible for the work done by private contractors that they hire. Giving the job to the lowest bidder, who then cuts corners to make bigger profits, does not work. It is not just about dishonesty – councils and government agencies bear the responsibility of ensuring no lives are lost due to poor workmanship.

And just in case the Works Ministry and KL City Hall have forgotten, they made pledges in 2016 to keep roads free of potholes. The ministry made its promise through the Aku Janji Zero Potholes (“I Promise Zero Potholes”) campaign while KL City Hall’s Civil Engineering and Urban Transport Department said that KL would be a pothole-free city by 2017.

Well, it’s 2021 now. So, can we try harder to keep Malaysian roads free of potholes and save lives?

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