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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Malaysians and traffic laws – an observation


If ever there was a true 1Malaysia thing, a true national identity of sorts, the “balik kampung” exodus during festive seasons must be it. This Malaysian phenomenon is not unlike the more widely observed bird migration phenomenon which may precede a seasonal change in certain part of the world.

Ramadhan is near. That means Aidilfitri is not far away. That in turn means the “balik kampung” exodus will take place soon. Every year, millions of city dwellers, regardless of race and faith, will make their way home via our roads and highways during festive seasons.

And hundreds, if not thousands, will not arrive at their destination. They die on the roads.

Year in and year out the police would launch Ops Whatchamacallit to try to reduce accidents, especially fatal ones, during festive seasons. None has quite registered any meaningful success. The number of accidents, especially fatal ones, remains high.

The figures are staggering. According to a paper by the Highway Planning Unit of Malaysia[i], :-

Traffic accidents in Malaysia have been increasing at the average rate of 9.7% per annum over the last three (3) decades. Compared to the earlier days, total number of road accidents had increased from 24,581 cases in 1974 to 328,264 cases in 2005, reaching more than 135% increase of accident cases over 30 years. The number of fatalities (death within 30 days after accident) also increased but at slower rate compared to total road accident from 2,303 in 1974 to 6,200 in 2005.”

The costs of fatal accidents are obviously high. Apart from the emotional consequence, medical costs, the loss of resources as well as the costs of replacing such resources run in the hundreds of million each year.

It is time that our authorities take a serious look at this burgeoning problem. By that, I do not mean that the authorities should just install more cameras on the highways and roads, issue more summonses, go all out to collect the compounded fines and at the end of it offer “discounts” so that more offenders pay up their compounded fines. Such measures are obviously not working. They are clearly the wrong prescriptions for a misdiagnosed disease.

The fact is, we Malaysians are serial traffic offenders. And regardless of enforcement of the laws, we could not care less. The big question is, why?

I believe the problem is one of culture rather than legal. Allow me to explain.

Culture and cultural practices shape the laws. It is not the other way round. Thus we see the laws in various part of the world being interpreted or implemented according to the changing norms of culture and cultural practices. Italy and Australia, for example, (and a host of other Western countries, such as Canada) are now grappling with the defence of “honour killing” in murder prosecutions. This arises from the influx of Muslims immigrants who are naturalised as citizens. Although honour killing is not yet an acceptable defence, Judges in these countries are now more ready to give considerations to such issue when determining punishment.

In legal jurisprudence, a State or society criminalises an act because they view such act with abhorrence and repulsion. The commission of such act is deemed as unacceptable or repugnant to the values and norms of such State or society. Thus we criminalise rape and murder, for example.

Now, do we, as a society, view double parking, jumping queue, road hogging, driving in emergency lanes, speeding, jumping the red lights, tailgating, driving while using mobile phones (as well as sending text messages), changing lane without giving indication, and various other traffic acts as repugnant to our values and norms and thus, unacceptable? Think about it. The answer is actually no.

In fact in Malaysia, we are expected to do such act. The next time you drive, try stopping at a traffic light when it is about to turn from amber to red when there are cars behind yours. Chances are you would get a honking. When you are stuck in a traffic jam along the highway and your car is blocking the emergency lane, try not to drive in the emergency lane. Chances are, you would also get a honking. Try not to move your car onto the yellow box at a four junction when the light is green. Yes, you would get a honking.

Malaysia is a country where everybody is EXPECTED to break traffic laws. It is not a country where everybody is expected to comply with traffic laws.

Such being our culture and cultural practice, such acts become our values and norm. They are acceptable acts. They are not repugnant to us as a society and as a people. We are not repulsed by such acts. In fact, if somebody complies with traffic laws, we view him or her as a no-good goodie-two-shoes!

That being the order of the day, traffic laws and no amount of exuberance in their enforcement will make any difference whatsoever to solving the problem at hand. Why, even the drivers from the squeaky clean and anti-septic Singapore will break our traffic laws when they drive here. That further proves my point.

Studies have shown that people are able to and in fact will switch cultural mode when circumstances permit or demand such switch. A Malaysian goes to London. Immediately he or she would line up at a sandwich bar or a tube station, switch to some accent which he/she doesn’t even know exist before arriving there, says “thank you” to the cashier and “good morning” to the fish and chips seller. And the minute he/she arrives at KLIA, he/she would immediately switch back to the usual rude, smile-less and thank you-less creature that we are.

That is why the usually compliant Singaporean breaks our traffic laws the minute they cross the bridge in Johor Bharu. And I have even seen some Mat Salleh drivers jumping the red light in Bangsar.

This article would be far too long if I were to suggest solutions. But a really close look at the behavioural patterns of Malaysian and our cultural norms and values would go a long way towards having a correct diagnosis.

[i] http://www.unescap.org/ttdw/roadsafety/Reports2006/Malaysia_RSpaper.pdf


Jack said...

I drive by Jalan Kubang Semang in Seberang Perai everyday. The motorcyclists ride their bike without helmet but wearing tudung and kopiah whizzing past traffic, traffic lights and pass by right in front of Kubang Semang Polis station without a care. Many of these motorcyclist are in school uniform, male and female students included.

With such encouragement with no enforcement from the traffic police and the school, we are a long way off to be a traffic law abiding citizen.

Aasiyaa said...

when i used to work in orthopedic ward, there were lots of motorbikers patients with broken limbs and wounds and what not...if ssked how the mode of accident was, they would go:
-'itu kereta tak da nampak sama saya..'
-'kereta tu tak signal tiba2 dia corner kiri'...
-'kereta kat depan tu tiba2 brake mengejut'
-etc etc
Then i would go, kesiannnnnye, motorbikers selalu kena hentam.
Then i started to pay attention to motorbikers when i drive...and oh oh now i know why most of them selau kena hentam.

Aasiyaa said...

The thing is...it is considered lucky they made it to the ward. A few died at the emergency room and many go straight to the motuory. :(

Anonymous said...

The laws in Malaysia are very subjective. Some motorists are taken to task for their driving and some are not.
If you have lots of badges on your car and you look like you might be someone important you don't get stopped by police. It always seems to be cheaper cars and lorries that get pulled over by police.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder what the authorities in charge i.e. Police &JPJ are doing.Are they coming to work just to collect their salaries? Any average motorist can just belt out the amount of offences that are being consistently commited by the inconsiderate and couldn't careless. They get away.So what happens? Everybody joins in.Whether illegal parking,no entry,one way street,red lights,double lines,speeding.What's the point of a once in year operation on Raya & New Year holiday. The rest of the year it's anything can. Malaysia Boleh!

tbh said...

Me think it is the stooopid and oversealous authorities who are to be partly blamed for all these "ignore staffic rules"

Ever tried driving at the speed limit of 60kph at km40 of karak highway where the cops frequently conduct speed trap? If you do so, you're actually making a nuisance of youself on the road n risking yours and life of other road users!

All vehicles (cars, bikes, lorries n buses) will zoom past you
at much higher speed bcos the 60kph speed limit is ridiculously low.

Have you encountered a busy traffic junctino where green light stay for a mere 2 seconds?????

Overtime, motorist just can't be bothered with road signs!!!

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Ozland for 12 years now, i know the chances of me breaking the law and getting away with it, is only about 10 percent! Whereas in Bolehland, breaking the law and getting away scot free is 90 percent, and in any event if the policeman were to summon me, i can still 'selesai' it!

Harris H said...

I totally agree with the comments from anonymous ;it's our enforcement culture that's very lacks and corrupt.I've driven in Oz and Singapore, the likelihood of not getting a speeding ticket is very low. 3 strikes and its licence suspension,no exceptions. What more discounts, PDRM approach is a farce.

Anonymous said...

why blame culture? You must be a regular traffic offender to come up with such an excuse. It is all about enforcement. People of Singapore are just like us. If they can be disciplined by enforcement, why can't we? Enforcement is continuous and enforcement must be in all areas. Seasonal enforcement is a joke. Selected enforcement is also a joke. We mostly get summoned for speeding. Not for road hogging, slow driving, use of emergency lane, cut queues etc. Right now in Malaysia, the traffic law abiding citizens suffer.

Holy Brother said...

Why we do our best to pay all bills(Astro, TNB etc) on time?Is it because it is our culture or we are afraid of the consequences?

Anonymous said...

Everytime balik tanahair - I struggle alot to change my driving mode from defensive to offensive.

Malaysian Expat said...

Ultimately it comes back to the police corruption issue. You can have all the laws and fines in the world, but if your front line is leaky, none of the other measures will mean a thing.

Though one thing they could definitely do is issue tickets to speeders on the highway between KL and Singapore. If someone goes 200km in 80 minutes - and they know because you have to enter and exit through a tollbooth - then there's no possible way they could have done it without speeding. That should be an automatic ticket. Don't want to pay? No problem: Leave your car there and walk the rest of the way.

Malaysian Expat said...

Ultimately it comes back to the police corruption issue. You can have all the laws and fines in the world, but if your front line is leaky, none of the other measures will mean a thing.

Though one thing they could definitely do is issue tickets to speeders on the highway between KL and Singapore. If someone goes 200km in 80 minutes - and they know because you have to enter and exit through a tollbooth - then there's no possible way they could have done it without speeding. That should be an automatic ticket. Don't want to pay? No problem: Leave your car there and walk the rest of the way.

raj said...

spot on... there was this guy who sniggered at his friend. This fella, he said, actually signals when he wants to turn lah! then, he went *facepalm*

Anonymous said...

Art, a strange thing happened in OUG a few months back. A particular traffic light junction enjoyed its fair share of jumpers until lo and behold a few police road blocks down the road cured it. Unfortunately the disease seems to be making a comeback lately. So, much like Pavlov's dog, some conditioning might just work. I haven't lost hope yet.

Yougoslavs said...

Err ...Tuan,

How about Transnational Ciminal Laws? Jangan lupa, juga!

What if the corrupt UMNO goons have compromised our national economic advantages and integrity?

What if they can stuff our PM in their bags and we becomes slaves again ??? How ah? Malays become slaves again?

The US AG was here! Can you give some comments for us?

Anonymous said...

I dont agree with Malaysian expat. Why u angry at police department when enforcement officers and men are from RTD, LPKP, Police, SPAD, and many more. So many department to protect and enforce laws on road. Why not make it only one department by combining all department into only one entity? If MMEA can do that at sea, why not u do that on road? U save a lot in term of asset and man power, different jurisdiction and so on. Another thing is too many car in one place such as Kuala Lumpur, where accident cant be avoided when rain drop in the morning or in the evening. What can u do? Yes u can, put some limit such 20 years older car and below only can use the road. More than that goes to scrap metal. This can reduce many cars on road drastically. Nowadays, u cant blame car accident increase because of SIKAP since nobody have good manners when driving. Tq

Anonymous said...

please laah.....if you break the law its of your own doing. You uphold the law elsewhere but NOT in Malaysia because you are expected to NOT do so...aiyooo!!!
it seems everyone needs enforcement all year long in order to behave...phatetic!!
as for corruption - for me its either give me the summons or let me go. I have never once paid any bribes....
Jack (10 July 1039) nak cakap orang melayu yang selalu break the law to cakap aje lah....malu malu pulak.


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