I NOTE with interest the priority given to road safety by our new Transport Minister.
We have one of the highest road fatality rates in Asia. Our government had, in the past, made numerous attempts to reduce the road traffic injury rate.
We have a unique status of being the only country in the world with an apparently good “infrastructure” for road safety, namely the (former) Cabinet Committee on Road Safety, Road Safety Council (a registered society), Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) and a Department of Road Safety with a branch in each state.
Why then have we failed in our attempts to curtail road traffic deaths despite such a heavy “investment”? The main reason is our overemphasis on efforts at education (including campaigns) without a concomitant (perceived) increase in enforcement.
The real medicine for road safety is the “bitter” enforcement while education is the “sweetener” in the medicine. Traffic police need to be relieved of their administrative duties so that they can spend their time effectively on the ground to enforce the rules.
The police could theoretically increase their efforts at enforcement overnight but that would not be popular among the people. They are eternally in a dilemma as to how much their enforcement level should be, especially when the government of the day tries to be “popular”.
Enforcement in rural areas and those targeted at motorcyclists who carry many children are examples which invoke strong sentiments in people who have fewer alternatives for transport. But enforcement has to be increased, be both overt/covert, universal (all areas including rural areas), continuous (day/night) and not just seasonal or before festive seasons.
The overall aim should be to increase among the people the “perception of being caught” anywhere/anytime. The people need to be frequently reminded that the level of enforcement will be increased.
We have hope in a radical approach from the new government. We need to address the “low-hanging fruits” in road safety, namely driving beyond the speed limit, drink-driving, wearing of motorcycle helmets (certified quality and preferably full faced), usage of seat belts (front and rear), and distracted driving (use of mobile phones). Other zero-cost measures include wearing light/ bright clothes (being visible) at night.
Many governments in the region have achieved success in road safety and their efforts are summarized in the WHO Reports on Road Safety. We need to urgently emulate some of their efforts.
PROFESSOR KRISHNAN RAJAM