Thursday November 10, 2011
Too many close shaves
ALONG THE WATCHTOWER By M.VEERA PANDIYAN
Must we wait for yet another bus tragedy or for accidents and deaths to reach ‘an alarming stage’ before we act?
A 400-METRE-WIDE asteroid named 2005 YU55 has just zipped past the world at a distance closer than the moon – the most significant near-miss in astronomical terms.
An asteroid of such size hitting the Earth can unleash a force equivalent to a 4,000-megaton nuclear blast, or a 22-metre high tsunami if it lands in the sea.
But as scientists have assured us, this galactic rock poses no threat of hitting us for at least another century, it seems.
The continuous near-misses down on Earth and closer to home, however, are getting scarier. I’m talking about the close shaves seen daily on Malaysian roads, caused by reckless and inconsiderate drivers.
More than a thousand road accidents occur daily, with an average of 18 people killed, a high fatality rate for a country of 28 million.
And, with the barefaced disregard for rules on the road and woeful enforcement by the authorities, it is a wonder that the figures are not higher.
Besides dealing with selfish ones who speed, beat the traffic lights and don’t use signal lights before turning, those who follow the rules have to worry about death-wish daredevils on motorcycles and rash drivers of large vehicles, particularly buses.
Over the past week, there had been several incidents involving buses.
On Tuesday, six hospital workers were injured after a bus they had just boarded skidded out of control and overturned in Johor Baru.
A day earlier, 25 people were hurt when an express bus veered off the Air Hitam-Johor Baru stretch of the expressway, smashed into the divider and plunged into a drain.
In both cases, the drivers were said to be speeding.
A similar mishap happened in Tawau, Sabah, last Sunday. An express bus with 42 passengers crashed into a hill and overturned. It was a miracle that only two passengers suffered minor injuries.
The police and the Road Transport Department must surely know that there are now more irresponsible express bus drivers, who go as fast as 140kph on the expressways and overtake at every opportunity – although the speed limit for such vehicles is 90kph.
The same applies to express bus drivers from Singapore and Thailand.
True, there is the much publicised Ops Sikap during every festive period but what about the rest of the year?
Let’s not forget that the worst road accident in the country’s history happened just nine months ago.
Twenty-seven people, mostly Thai tourists, died when a tour bus slammed into a divider and plunged 51 metres down a ravine at the Cameron Highlands-Simpang Pulai road on Dec 20.
Several bodies were flung from the wreckage and others trapped in the mangled vehicle.
And just two months before that, there were 20 deaths in two other horrific bus accidents.
Thirteen people died in a bus crash along Km223 of the North-South Expressway near the Simpang Ampat toll plaza while seven were killed after a bus skidded and overturned in Genting Sempah.
The driver involved in the second accident had no valid driving licence.
But apparently, the number of road fatalities involving bus and lorry drivers has not reached “an alarming stage”, as a senior Road Safety Department official has been quoted as saying.
He said deaths involving these vehicles stood at only 77 and 202 cases, respectively, in 2010, and the 279 cases were part of the total 61,872 reported cases of fatal road accidents.
The official said motorcyclists and pillion riders accounted for the largest number of fatal road accident victims – 4,036 last year.
But isn’t this fundamentally due to the lack of strict enforcement by the authorities? Most motorcyclists don’t even bother to wait for the traffic lights to change these days.
As for accidents involving buses, must we wait for yet another tragedy or for accidents or deaths to reach “an alarming stage” before we act?
Motorcyclists should be made to know the dangers of reckless riding and be severely punished for serious offences.
Drivers of buses must be held to a much higher standard for any careless thought or risky move they make on the roads can snuff out the lives of many.
The condition of the vehicles is another serious issue. Thousands of express, tour and school buses that are not roadworthy are still being used.
But enough said about bad buses and bus drivers. In the bigger scheme of things, the whole system of teaching Malaysians how to drive needs a massive revamp.
Few people would disagree with Prof Dr Abdul Rahim Nor, UKM’s Social, Development and Environmental Studies School head, who said recently that Malaysians may have driving licences but not necessarily the skills to drive properly.
He said Malaysia should follow the example of developed nations where it could take up to four years for motorists to get their actual driver’s licence.
Here, anyone can get a full licence within months and start driving, using “P” stickers for two years, but some of these new drivers and riders do not even bother to do so.
As he said, if they cannot even stick to the “P” regulation, it is no surprise that the country continues to record high accident statistics.
> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by an unknown author: Leave sooner, drive slower, live longer.