Speed Skills

If a kancil were to be loaded with half the inhabitants of a small fishing village in Northern Terengganu and propelled along the North-South highway into a reinforced concrete wall at 110 kph, carnage wouldn’t begin to describe the resultant atomization of the vehicle and it’s contents, and we would still expect this to happen even if the kancil was traveling at 60 kph.

Imagine instead a turbo charged, 4 ton, all wheel drive, ABS assisted, low strung lean mean German machine built to withstand a collision with a jumbo jet, leisurely traveling down the same highway at 200 kph, faced with the same obstacle.

It would merely stop in time.

Ponder the above and one may be forgiven for questioning the wisdom of the implementation of any speed limit designed to curtail the velocity of vehicles plying our highways and byways when this limitation would appear to be completely discriminatory, apart from, of course, being completely ineffective.

This fact however does not seem to be appreciated by the Royal Malaysian Police Force (Traffic Division), in their annual pilgrimage to the Multi Nova, known affectionately as ‘Ops Sikap’. The literal translation actually means ‘Operation Attitude’, the purpose of which is to nab drivers traveling in excess of the designated speed limits. Once this has been accomplished, these errant drivers are issued with speeding tickets they never pay and continue to drive as errantly as ever. That is the attitude of the average Malaysian driver. Catch me if you can, and if you do, so what?

But in theory, with the entire Malaysian police force out on the roads aiming speed cameras at passing motorists, and the sheer volume of traffic on the roads during the long ‘balik kampung’’holiday, one would expect a general and inevitable slow down in the average speed of the average motorist, on all highways.

In theory also, and as one is made to believe, once vehicular traffic is forced to slow down, the number of collisions should fall and therefore, rather simplistically, more lives are saved. But we all know this doesn’t happen. Every year the numbers increase. Every year the cops catch speed hogs. Every year there is the usual crawl along the highways and every year ‘Ops Attitude’ is launched.

One may therefore be forgiven for being confused by the terminology used. By what standards of evaluation have the police managed to relate ‘attitude’ to ‘speed’, or vice versa? Has anyone bothered to think outside the box? Is everyone bogged down with the notion that speeding is the wrong attitude to have?

‘Attitude’, in general, is an inherent, latent or acquired state of mind or disposition. It lurks behind a facade of geniality, respect, and general concern for your neighbour, inherent in all Malaysians. ‘Road attitude’ in particular, manifests itself as soon as tar macadam appears under the floor boards and is not necessarily nice. A Malaysian with a decent attitude normally, transmutates into a monster once he, or even, she, gets behind a steering wheel.

It would be fair to assume that an attitude must necessarily evolve over a period of time, be developed, be nurtured and be cultivated until maturity, and ought to encompass all that is good in the world for the betterment of mankind in general.

The moment we are cast unclothed and defenceless from womb to world, we are attitudeless. We slowly acquire the attributes of possessing an attitude by being educated to develop one. Step by step, year after year, we are taught to pass exams by regurgitating insipid facts, not by understanding them. We are educated in developing skills for short cuts, for escape and for the annihilation of competition. It’s all about getting ahead of the other guy at any cost. We become blinkered and devoid of any understanding of the order of nature in a civilized world, of the interests of minorities or the principles of justice and fair play. We fail to question the impact our behaviour would have on others. We have lost the ability to anticipate anything which is not self serving.

Translate all this into the mind set of the average Malaysian driver and perhaps a better understanding of what goes wrong on our roads may be appreciated.

There were apparently a total of 15,716 road accidents detected over the recent festive two week period, out of which approximately 7 bus loads of Malaysians were dispatched to that great highway in the sky. The rest languish in already overcrowded hospitals with the relatively lucky remainder filling in police reports and insurance claim forms.

Apart from dodgy nasi lemaks, the monthly gruesome murder, and the occasional helicopter wipe out, Malaysian society is being decimated by the ineptitude of its drivers. There is no such thing as ‘learning to drive’ in this country. This invites the misconception that there is an element of education involved. A proper and complete education necessarily encapsulates the acquiring not only of knowledge, but life skills as well, which I assume would include the powers of anticipatory foresight, expanding the paradigms of the thought process and developing the ability to make reasoned and well defined judgment calls.

The cops may have got the terminology right but are certainly barking up the wrong tree as far as the target is concerned.

Speed doesn’t necessarily kill. Drivers’ attitudes do.

The main misconception amongst Malaysian drivers is the notion that we are invincible. This is the notion that accidents only happen to others, and if another driver is inadvertently, or otherwise, doing something wrong, I am allowed to ignore it because I am in the right, and if a collision does actually happen, it will be the other driver’s fault. This sentiment does not, however, take into account the possibility that you may end up being just as dead maintaining your right of way as the other driver may be, by doing what he shouldn’t have.

It is interesting to note that 8.3% of those unfortunate Malaysians who left us permanently over the festive period were pedestrians. This implies they were without vehicle and utilizing lower limbs as a form of propulsion, so the likelihood of speed being a contributory factor is less than probable.

The largest group were the motor cycles. 66.6% of all fatalities were riders or their pillions. The remaining 16.2% were car drivers and passengers.

It takes two to tango and three’s a crowd. There has to be some inherent but yet elusive combination between all 3 sets of percentages to create a situation in which people get hurt. The possible permutations are mind boggling. Throw into the equation the odd coconut tree, bollards, road dividers, lamp posts and the odd stray dog and it starts getting even better. And if you now take into account contemporary Mat Rempit stone throwing incidents, the statistics go haywire.

It is more than obvious that the persistent and ubiquitous speed trap is not working. Perhaps it is time the issues are examined in detail and other avenues explored. We really need to rethink the reasons for the current upward trend in road massacre and address the situation in a completely different manner. Leave speed alone for the time being and concentrate on other factors. Let us examine, for example, the mechanical road worthiness of vehicles plying our roads. Let us analyze the statutory rules governing road traffic, and their intended purpose. Why do people drink and drive? Why are victims of road accidents normally scraped off the asphalt and transported to the nearest hospital by a benevolent passer by. Where are the paramedics and ambulances when you need them? Can lives be saved if proper medical treatment is made available in time?

Apply the answers derived from these questions to the statistics and we may discover a completely different scenario to that which is being brandished at the moment. What really causes fatalities and injuries on the roads? Perhaps some real life examples may provide a clue.

Having been a personal injury and insurance litigator for the past 27 years, I must have come across every possible permutation of a road accident in existence. And the learning ground in this country is certainly fertile. There is no doubt in my mind that accidents don’t just happen, they are indeed, caused. They are caused by an inadequate education system. There cannot possibly be any other reason why a driver would slowly emerge out of a junction, collide into a pedestrian, drag the poor soul across a 6 lane highway, and in the process, traverse the central divider, eventually coming to an abrupt halt on the opposite side of that highway, with that unfortunate pedestrian pinned up against the crash barrier.

The excuse for this little mishap was a sudden and unusual memory loss regarding the distinction between a brake and accelerator pedal.

Then there was the story of the poor lorry attendant who, as his job required, was dutifully perched on the back of a lorry driven by his mate and whose head was unfortunately separated from the rest of his being as his friend drove under a low overhead bridge.

And what about the motorcyclist who rode his machine into the rear of a legitimately parked car? Why? Well he simply didn’t see it. He couldn’t have. He had just been doing some welding work without using tinted goggles and this blinded him.

But I leave the best for last. Changing a punctured tyre at night. This is rather annoying at the best of times. Especially when you are all dressed up on the way to a wedding dinner. Real nuisance. Lets just get the spare on and head off on our way again. Don’t worry, we can be seen. After all we are in the fast lane of the North-South Highway Km 22.2, and I cannot for the life of me understand why I don’t have any legs anymore.

So what’s the answer? The answer is simple. The psyche of the average Malaysian must be re-tuned. How one sets about trying to do this, though, is not so simple.

How do we develop our powers of foreseeability and anticipatory skills so much so that they become second nature? There can be but only one way, and that is to inculcate these values in our learning processes. We need our children to understand and appreciate much more than is being taught to them at the moment. Not only do we need them to appreciate the difference between right and wrong but we also need them to understand the reason for that distinction. This would be the first step towards establishing a fundamental realization that the world does not revolve around the individual per se but that there are actually a few other homo sapiens wandering around and things really ought to be shared.

In other words, we need to get back to the drawing board. Forget the speed cameras. They serve no purpose. Forget the attitude of existing drivers. This is a lost cause. Lets start again with the kids in school. Let us formulate a plan to ensure that a six year old understands the concept of what being civic minded means and perhaps we may create a new generation of drivers whose sole aim in life is to protect life limb and property, not only of his or her own, but of everyone else’s as well.

And then perhaps, we will drive at speeds which are appropriate, taking into consideration the condition of the road upon which we are traveling, the weather at that time, the potential presence of pedestrians, children and animals, the type of vehicle we are in control of and it’s road worthiness, and of course the presence of other road users. These are all my fellow country men and I must do everything in my power to ensure they are not harmed because they are human beings, like me, and they have loved ones, like me, and we would all like to lead long and happy lives with our body parts intact.

If I drive fast, it is because I am a safe fast driver and I have the correct state of mind to do so. I rely on the quality of the vehicle I am in charge of, and I know when to slow down. I make sure I am well rested before a journey and make sure my vehicle is in perfect functioning order. I am capable of anticipating folly in most forms and I keep 360 degrees of my vision unimpeded and unobstructed.

Even though, I will, unfortunately, still be susceptible to a speeding fine, I know I will never be castigated if I disregarded all of the above and instead decided to travel within the speed limit, albeit moronically. Speed pays fines or other clandestine things, attitude doesn’t.


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Posted on 29 May 2009. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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2 Responses to Speed Skills

  1. Musa_Ng

    Don't kid yourself – you can still die in a BMW or Merc if you are speeding and become involved in an accident.

    Morons who speed deserve to die when they have accidents but unfortunately they also end up killing others who are totally innocent.

    Morons who speed have no respect for other road users and being morons are despicable examples of human beings who demand the respect of others for being morons.

    Reducing road speeds is the only certain method of reducing the carnage on our roads – pls don't believe me, go look up the stats yourself.

    If you are as good with a car as you think you are, go prove it on the race track – not on a public road otherwise you are just a tool and full of it.

    And yes, I have been involved in motor sports, thank you.

  2. Bro,

    You hit the nail right between the short-sighted eyes!

    The emphasis on speed, or rather, limiting speed, is almost moronic. Speed is only but one of the factors of accident. The primary factor is stupidity, recklessness and the couldn't-care-less-free-as-a-bird kind of attitude that most of our drivers seem to be naturally imbued with.

    And why is it that most accidents which result in death involve Proton/Kancil/old vans/buses, lorries/motorbikes (the kapchai)? I mean, I am not a car snob but that is the reality. When was the last time we read about 5 people dying an accident involving a BMW and a Merc?

    Quite obviously, socio-cultural factors are also at play. Those at the lower rung of the economics-intellect scale are more prone to be involved in fatal accidents. The data are available. Just go and check them. And learn from them. But no….speed shall be our aim.

    If speed is the cause of fatal accidents, then all F1 drivers would have died by now. But I could hear everyone saying the races are in a controlled environment. Which is precisely the point. Environment also plays a role. The road, the lights, the bumps and the whatever. Plus of course, the skills of the drivers, the attitude and the awareness.

    Does our police know that? No. Because speed is quite obviously, the culprit.

    I am writing this real slowly. Coz you know, speed kills!