LAST Sunday morning, a rented car crashed into several parked vehicles while making a U-turn in a carpark along popular Jalan Pantai Cenang on Pulau Langkawi. It was an accident waiting to happen.
The car was driven by a 35-year-old tourist who was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Although he did not have a valid driving licence, the car was rented to him either by an illegal operator or by staff of a licensed car rental company who had been negligent.
Langkawi is well-known for cheap rental cars offered by roadside operators. Although the Car Rental Association of Malaysia has succeeded in getting many unlicensed car rental operators in Langkawi to join its association and legitimise their businesses some time ago, the situation remains largely laissez-faire.
Duty-free Langkawi is indeed a paradise for alcohol and tobacco lovers, with beers costing not much more than soft drinks. While the number of cigarettes one can smoke is somewhat limited, many tourists drink to their heart’s content.
Mercifully, the driver was not seriously injured, nor did he injure or, worse, kill anybody. If he had, the victim would not get any compensation from the insurance company, as no motor insurance policy covers driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Whenever an unlicensed rented car is seriously damaged when driven by a customer and no other party is involved, rental car staff members have been known to make a false police report stating he/she was the driver to make the insurance claim, as there is no cover when private cars are used for hire or reward.
Langkawi is a hotbed of illegal car rental activities because motor vehicles on the island are much cheaper without excise duty. And unlike landlocked places where customers could drive off a rented car and never return, the only way off the island is via the single ferry terminal so that is unlikely to happen on the island.
Over the years, I have set up and operated five car rental businesses and am fully aware of the risks in hiring and driving an unlicensed private car. But many people throw caution to the winds and, sadly, they are facilitated by illegal car rental operators and irresponsible staff who rent out cars without proper documentation.
Lack of enforcement always results in illegitimate businesses thriving while licensed operators complying with regulations suffer. Government agencies are best rated by the health of the industry they are supposed to regulate, not by their own key internal performance indicators, as achieving them are simply a congratulatory exercise.