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Sunday, August 28, 2011

FESTIVE TEARS

Sulaiman Kamal | 4:24 PM | Best Blogger Tips

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KUALA LUMPUR: Last year, 16,817 road accidents and 248 deaths were recorded during the Hari Raya season.It's likely to be worse this year.

Just four days into Ops Sikap this year,6,094 accidents and 77 death have already been recorded to climb further as the volume of vehicles on the road grows, normally peaking on the eve of hari Raya.


During the first four days of Hari Raya last year, there were only 62
deaths from 4,525 accidents.


These alarming figures raise questions on the effectiveness of road safety operations such as Ops Sikap and the overall attitudes of drivers on
the road during the holidays.




Road safety experts believe operations such as Ops Sikap have been “effective but not ideal” in reducing the number of road fatalities, with more manpower and resources needed to be truly successful.

They also attributed the high accident rate to greater traffic volume, driver s’ attitudes and risky behaviour.

Last year, the number of vehicles on the road tripled to nine million during the festive period — a number which should raise alarmbells when taking into account the risk of accidents increasing eight-fold when traffic volume doubles.


Despite more cars, however,Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) director-general Associate Prof Dr Wong Shaw Voon said the average number of deaths during Ops Sikap was in fact lower than non-holiday periods.

“This is attributed to higher police presence, as well as greater awareness of road safety due to other factors such as media campaigns.”

He said the normal daily average for road fatalities was 18.5 per day but this dipped to 15.5 per day during Hari Raya last year. The number of fatalities also fell during Chinese New Year this year to 13.3 per day, despite traffic volume doubling during the Ops Sikap period.

The death toll has also decreased steadily since Chinese New Year 2009, which recorded 212 fatalities compared with 204 deaths last year and 199 deaths this year.

However, Wong said the accident rates remained high as many drivers used unfamiliar or alternative routes to avoid traffic jams. “Doing something out of the ordinary, such as using trunk roads instead of highways or travelling at night, exposes them to greater risk of accidents.”

While he did not discourage drivers from using alternative routes, he advised
them to bewell prepared. “They should plan their routes carefully and prepare for the unexpected, such as sharp curves along trunk roads and animals crossing.”

Former Miros director-general Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi said Malaysia had a long way to go before reaching the optimal level of enforcement to overcome errant driving and bad road behaviour.

“The level of enforcement is directly correlated to road users’ perception of getting caught for traffic offences,” Radin, also Universiti Putra Malaysia vice-chancellor, said.

According to a 2007 study, he said only a quarter of road users believed they would be caught for offences such as speeding and running a red light. This increased to 64 per cent during Ops Sikap due to the higher visibility of enforcement officers.

“However, this is still well below the targeted average of 75 per cent, which should be attained not only during the holiday season but throughout the year.” While he agreed that having more officers on the road would be helpful,
he suggested more investments in technology be made by employing speed traps and cameras to compensate for the lack of manpower.

Radin also said penalties such as heavier fines and jail sentences were not as effective as initiatives which encouraged self-regulation among drivers, such as allowing insurance companies to charge higher rates for demerit points recorded.

“Malaysians have become experts at evading fines, whether by avoiding payment or abusing the appeals process. But they’re more likely to think twice about running a red light if they feel that it will actually hurt them financially. This is a long-term strategy to improve driver behaviour.”


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