SOMEWHERE in the archives of Filem Negara Malaysia is a short road-safety film. It features a policeman from the 1950s or perhaps early 1960s, in his khaki-coloured knee-length shorts (one just knows the colour, even though the film is in black and white). The policeman crosses a road in front of bicyclists who have stopped at a traffic light. As he passes them, he taps his truncheon on the front wheel of those bicycles that have crossed the white line on the road. He indicates for them to back up behind the white line. Indeed, in the film, bicyclists have to dismount at the traffic light.
I think Datuk Suret Singh of the Road Safety Department should ask Filem Negara Malaysia for this gem of a road-safety message and play it on TV again. It harkens back to a simpler time in our nation’s history, during which the police were respected, and civility on the roads was actually enforced.
Another Road Safety Department/Filem Negara Malaysia film produced in the 1960s
Today, crossing the road even when the little green man is flashing is highly injurious to your health. The flashing little green man might as well be from Mars. Pedestrian crossings are violated by motorcycles, cars, vans, buses, lorries — you name it — on a daily basis. Even our pavements and five-foot-ways, meant for pedestrians, have been hijacked by parked vehicles on one side and hawkers’ tables on the other.
Try crossing the road these days and, in addition to looking out for bigger vehicles, you have to beware the motorcyclist coming against the flow of traffic. Look at any pedestrian walkway attached to a building site that encroaches onto the road. Has any provision been made for an alternative safe space for pedestrians? Often there’s none whatsoever.
There is a saying: “Sedikit-sedikit, lama-lama menjadi bukit.” Little things build up over time. It’s meant to be a positive saying: save a little bit every day, and eventually there will be a lot. Accomplish a little bit each day, and it will amount to something significant one day.
(© Michal Zacharzewski/sxc.hu)But to me it also has a negative twist. Bad habits, not corrected over time, eventually lead to serious and entrenched discourtesy. As is the case on our roads.
There is little point launching one Ops Sikap after another during the festive balik kampung if we ignore the daily transgressions of our traffic code. As a pedestrian on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, I witness them every day. Driving while holding a handphone or PDA; illegal U-turns; stopping smack in the middle of a pedestrian crossing and forcing the pedestrian to risk life and limb by walking in the line of traffic. Even the most vulnerable motorcyclist is guilty of giving pedestrians a hard time.
The per capita Gross Domestic Income for Malaysia stands at US$4,960 (according to the World Bank, 2006). Taking my assumptions into account, the unfortunate deaths over the 2008 Hari Raya Puasa holidays has cost the country US$20,336,000 or RM71,176,000 (based on the exchange rate as of time of writing) in future lost income.
RM71 million. This is income that Malaysia will not generate because 205 lives were prematurely terminated in road accidents. And that’s just in one festive season! Last year, during the same Hari Raya Puasa period, 225 people died. That’s RM78 million in future lost income.
(© Clay Smith/sxc.hu)During the Chinese New Year celebration this year, 165 people died (RM57,288,000), compared with 220 (RM76,384,000) last year.
Where is the outcry?
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to be cold and heartless in reducing human suffering to mere monetary value. I fully recognise that each death represents the loss of a father or a son, a wife or daughter, a relative, or a friend. The pain and anguish for whole families, colleagues at work, and so on cannot be valued monetarily.
But if we knew that several times a year some event causes the country to lose approximately RM70 million each time, wouldn’t there be a public outcry? Wouldn’t politicians, from either side of the aisle, be rushing to raise questions in Parliament? Wouldn’t non-governmental organisations be rushing to issue statements deploring this unnecessary wastage of income?
Yet there is relative silence.
Enough of the charade of launching safety campaigns where the press are invited to take photographs. The photo ops are usually of politicians helping to buckle the crash helmets of motorcyclists. Or helping a child to cross the yellow lines of the pedestrian crossing in the relative safety of the taxi lane at KL Sentral. Instead, shouldn’t these campaigns be publicised amid the hustle and bustle of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman or Puduraya, where there would be a more realistic impact?
And what about regular, everyday enforcement of road safety laws and traffic regulations? Let’s not just focus on the three or four periods in the year, but on each and every day. Because seriously, there are daily violations that build up a habit and culture of indifference and selfishness on our roads. The sad statistics in Ops Sikap appear to be declining (based on this year compared with last year), which is a good thing. But a lot more can and needs to be done.
(© Victor Zastol’skiy/Dreamstime)Honour thy pedestrian
I have seen parents buckle up in cars and yet hold an infant in the front passenger seat unprotected. I have seen a parent buckle up as a driver leaving his child free and unrestrained in the back seat. I have seen a parent drive with a child on his lap! We have all seen and experienced indiscriminate parking, undisciplined driving, and thuggish behaviour on our roads.
They say the test of a democracy is in how it treats the weakest members of society. I would suggest that the test of a vehicle-owning society is in how it treats its pedestrians. And let’s face it, we are all pedestrians once we get out of our cars and off our motorcycles. Our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters are pedestrians at some time in their lives. The people we are rude and heartless to on the streets are someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or friend.
So let’s not have different perspectives based on which side of the dashboard we are on. If you want to cross the road without fear the next time you are on foot, then practise stopping your vehicle clear of the pedestrian crossing. Stop well before the white line painted on the road, for the benefit of others. Let’s not ignore the line of safety.
See also: Raya and roadkill
Zebra crossing… (© Sylvia Cosimini/sxc.hu)
Andrew Khoo is an advocate and solicitor in private practice, and an aspiring columnist and commentator.