“As our focus shifts towards Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the issue of road crashes and the resulting fatalities has become imperative. Reducing traffic-related deaths aligns with SDG Three, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. This underscores the need for intensified efforts to address these issues and turn the goal a reality.“

INJURIES and deaths from road crashes are a pressing concern. According to the World Health Organisation, road crashes are the leading cause of death among those aged five to 29.

In Malaysia, this trend is evident, with reported traffic accident cases increasing to 598,635 in 2023 from 545,588 in 2022. Equally alarming is the escalation in fatalities, which more than doubled from 6,080 to 12,417, over the same period.

Apart from the loss of lives due to road crashes, a 2017 report highlighted that each traffic fatality incurred an average cost of RM1.2 million to the country. This includes RM120,000 for severe injuries and RM12,000 for minor injuries, encompassing medical expenses, lost productivity and other compensatory measures.

As our focus shifts towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressing the issue of road crashes and the resulting fatalities has become imperative. Reducing traffic-related deaths aligns with SDG Three, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all.

While the target was set to halve the global number of traffic deaths and injuries by 2020, only 10 countries have achieved a 50% reduction in traffic deaths by 2021.

Regrettably, traffic fatalities, along with the rising cases of tuberculosis, are designated as “major challenges that remain” within SDG Three. This underscores the need for intensified efforts to address these issues and turn the goal into a reality.

Tackling this issue can prove challenging given its complexity. Road crashes can happen due to various reasons and can stem from different causes. However, multiple studies have categorised the triggers into three primary factors: human behaviour, environment and vehicle-related.

According to Mahat, Jamil and Raseli (2020), human behaviour is the predominant trigger of road crashes, followed by environmental factors and vehicle-related issues.

Human behaviour factor

There are five sub-factors under human behaviour: speeding, driving under the influence (DUI), mobile phone use while driving, changing lanes without signalling and drowsiness, all of which constitute a violation of traffic laws.

Albeit, reports from 2022 claimed that fatal accidents caused by drunk driving between 2011 and July of 2021 were only 69 cases. Mahat and colleagues maintain that drunk driving or DUI is the primary cause of road crashes under the human behaviour factor.

For less serious offences such as speeding, the punishment entails a fine. However, for more serious violations such as DUI, individuals may face not only hefty fines but also the possibility of imprisonment.

However, fines for speeding or various other offences often amount to nothing due to the lax enforcement by authorities. More often than not, people who violate the law and receive summonses disregard paying their fines.

There are due dates for fine payments, but there are no consequences even if the due date is long passed. This laxity is evident in the frequent discounts offered on summonses aimed at attracting offenders to settle their overdue fines.

Law enforcement must be stricter to ensure compliance with fine payment deadlines. While consequences such as blocking individuals from renewing road tax or issuing arrest warrants exist, their effectiveness remains questionable.

Furthermore, bribery among traffic police is also a major concern. Earlier in February, 10 officers manning a roadblock in Petaling Jaya were investigated over suspicion of corruption after one was found in possession of RM3,000 during a spot check.

Therefore, it is a positive development that the police will soon be equipped with body cameras. A full rollout of body cameras is expected to be achieved in the first quarter of 2025. Routine and random inspection of footage will improve transparency as well as reduce bribery among police officers.

Policymakers should also incentivise those who comply with traffic rules as positive reinforcement has consistently proven to be a better way of improving behaviour.

For example, the government can provide incentives such as exemptions on road tax or waiver for licence renewals for drivers who have not violated any traffic rules over a designated period. Additionally, offering incentives for vehicle insurance renewals can further encourage compliance.

Environment factors

The environment-related aspect is categorised into four sub-factors: weather conditions, lighting conditions, animal crossings and adverse road and traffic conditions.

According to a study, the main threat of animal and vehicle collision stems from encounters with cows and buffaloes. It further highlighted that a majority of these accidents occur at night, especially in rural areas, which are also often characterised by adverse road conditions.

Free-roaming livestock is always a major concern and a safety hazard for road users, where even a train was involved in an accident that killed 14 cows, and it is reported that this is not the first incident at the location.

Under the Local Government Act 1976, local authorities have the authority to prohibit the keeping of animals on premises if it is deemed that their presence is likely to cause nuisance, including pose a risk of injury or danger to health or property. However, again, due to the lack of enforcement, many livestock owners do not adhere to the rules and continue to act recklessly with impunity.

In terms of low lighting conditions, it falls within the responsibility of the local government to install additional or upgrade existing streetlights to more efficient and powerful LED fixtures. For example, Petaling Jaya initiated the upgrade of all its street lights to LED lighting in 2022, with the aim of completing the transition for all street lights within a three-year timeframe.

As for the adverse road conditions, it is the Public Works Department’s job to fix them. One of the most common examples of adverse road conditions is potholes, and it has led to countless fatal accidents over the years. However, the current efforts to repair potholes are insufficient.

The Public Works Ministry has made some improvements over the years. The launch of the MyJalan mobile application, which allows people to lodge complaints over adverse road conditions, has received 5,836 complaints as of Dec 6, 2023. Around 1,532 of these complaints pertained to roads supervised by the ministry, with around 1,203 complaints resolved.

However, there is more that needs to be done to improve road users’ safety as evidenced by numerous reports of individuals who have had to personally finance road repairs.

Vehicle factors

Within vehicle factors, there are three sub-factors including brake and tyre failure as well as steering control, all of which constitute mechanical failures and are avoidable if vehicle owners perform routine maintenance checks.

While commercial vehicles require inspection by Puspakom every six months, there is no such requirement for private vehicles, unless the owner is trying to sell them.

Vehicle factors rank lowest among road crash triggers, implying that vehicle failure contributes the least to road crashes. However, this does not diminish its importance.

Routine vehicle inspections should be a norm for all vehicle owners, especially considering Malaysia’s lack of an age limit for private vehicles.

Fortunately, Malaysians are responsible regarding vehicle inspections, often having their vehicles inspected before returning to their hometowns for holiday celebrations. Puspakom even offered free inspection for private vehicles before Aidilfitri in 2023 to further promote voluntary vehicle inspections.

In the final analysis, the common underlying issues, whether pertaining to human behaviour, environmental conditions or vehicle-related factors, are the absence of effective enforcement and strategically designed incentives to promote desirable responsible conduct.

Addressing this issue requires policymakers to devote more time to deliberating on appropriate measures.

Drawing insights from psychology and modern technology while understanding the individual factors that commonly trigger road crashes will provide the government with a clear picture of the concerns at hand and what needs to be done to ensure the safety of people travelling to their destinations.

SDGs serve as guiding principles aimed not only at enhancing sustainability but also improving the quality of life globally.

There is no doubt that Malaysia is dependent on private vehicles, and therefore, more efforts must be made to guarantee the health and safety of road users.

The writer is a research assistant at Emir Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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