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Opinion

Walking on the edge

Sunday, 18 June 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Making roads safer begins with you

Let’s internalise the culture of safety which all the campaigns have been promoting.

LAST year, 7,152 Malaysians died in road accidents. This is a 6.6% rise compared to 2015, when our roads recorded 6,706 deaths. Of these, 62.7% of the fatalities were motorcyclists.

These are the cold, hard statistics – Malaysians who have lost their precious lives in accidents that could very well have been avoided. Over 7,000 mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who were robbed of precious time with their loved ones, leaving behind families grieving over their losses. The emotional multiplier of the trauma is crippling.

But this number is only a component of a larger number, which I want to personally bring your attention to.

The fatalities were part of 521,466 road accidents during the year, which also recorded an increase from 489,606 in 2015. A Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research study indicated that over 80% of road accidents were caused by human error and only 19.4% resulted from road and vehicle conditions.

Of that number, 20,982 of the accidents and 299 fatalities occurred during a festive season last year – the same one we will be celebrating in two weeks. In fact, we have not even begun festivities and we are already mourning two tragedies: the deaths of seven tahfiz students, with another seven seriously injured, from an accident in Kuala Krai, Kelantan; and the heart-breaking accident in Jempol, Negri Sembilan, which saw a teenager lose his parents and four siblings, his entire family!

My family and I, too, have been affected by a similar tragedy. My nephew, Ken Air, passed on recently after falling into a coma for seven years due to a road accident in 2010. The incident happened when he was driving back after a long, hard day at work. Waiting at a traffic light to turn green, he was hit by a reckless bus driver. He was only 22 when it happened.

The Government has organised many educational campaigns to promote etiquette, safety awareness and due consideration on the value of human lives: Biar lambat, asalkan selamat. Berhati-hati di jalanraya. Pandu cermat, jiwa selamat.

For years, we Malaysians have been bombarded with taglines and even catchy jingles as a constant reminder to stay safe on the roads. And yet, year in and year out, we continue to witness fatal road accidents which show no signs of abating.

It’s more than a mere matter of official duty for me. I want to implore the public to embrace these campaigns into their consciousness. This year, I would like our road safety campaigns to be different, by renewing our efforts in road safety through instilling a culture of safety among our youth.

This is being done through our Road Safety Education (RSE) module, which has been incorporated in the Bahasa Malaysia subject as part of the formal school curriculum in Malaysia since 2007. We have allocated a total of RM42mil to RSE under the 11th Malaysia Plan, and are currently revising our RSE module to ensure the content remains relevant and compelling.

The key objective is to ensure our RSE can continue to effectively promote awareness on road safety among our future road users – primary and secondary students.

The current module, which is more than a decade old, is in dire need of a revamp as times have changed with the use of technology. New measures are required to fit the present environment. We are currently conducting various RSE pilot studies on our revised module in 24 primary schools, 26 kindergartens and 30 pre-schools in selected states.

It is my wish that when the new RSE is implemented, this will not only be part of the teachers’ responsibility to enforce, but also all parents in Malaysia.

> Road safety enforcement

In addition to formalising road safety as part of the education curriculum, an important aspect to ensure road safety is enforcement.

Recently, the Transport Ministry implemented the AWAS system (Automated Awareness Safety System) in high-risk areas nationwide. The system is an integration of the AES (Automated Enforcement System) and the Demerit Points System (Kejara).

Since its enforcement in mid-April this year, we have seen an increase in road users’ compliance. What is more encouraging is that many residents associations, local communities and non-governmental organisations have requested the system to be implemented in areas near them.

This indicates Malaysians’ serious attitude towards road safety. Enforcement is key, as is coming down hard on errant lawbreakers. Policies are there for a reason, and we must be diligent in meting out stiffer penalties and punishment for errant vehicle owners.

> Balik kampung this coming Hari Raya

As we near Hari Raya Aidilfitri, I am pleased to see that a number of organisations, such as Petronas, Puspakom and highway concessionaires, have taken the initiative to hold their own road safety campaigns. These are positive moves by the private sector in utilising their recognisable brands to assist in promoting road safety. Campaigns will work if we unite in embracing them.

I draw experiences from when I was the Health Minister from 2008 until 2013. The nation was hit by the H1N1 flu virus. This dilemma was averted as a result of dedication and commitment from all parties to prevent the virus from becoming an epidemic.

This success was not only attributed to the efforts initiated by the Government, but the willingness of all Malaysians in playing an active role in the initiatives. It was noticeable that our prevention messages were taken seriously by the public, apparent in the increase in individuals wearing face masks and hand sanitisers provided by various facilities, offices and shopping complexes.

Similar proactive measures are necessary when it comes to road safety – it takes all of us to come together as one to reduce deaths from road accidents. It begins with all of us the moment we get behind the wheel.

We have a duty to be responsible, and a degree of attention to being considerate on the road goes a long way to ensuring road safety for all.

> Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is Transport Minister and MCA President. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.