Go Beyond Renaming Road Accidents as Crashes

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After launching a road safety campaign in conjunction with the coming Chinese New Year celebrations, Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Kamarudin Jaffar disclosed that his ministry had proposed at the Road Safety Council that accidents be labelled as crashes.

The change in terminology is aimed at raising awareness among the people of their own personal responsibilities while on the road. Will calling a spade a spade reduce road crashes substantially? If so, what about other terminologies such as speeding, hit-and-run and summons?

When it comes to speeding, many people immediately conjure up vision of vehicles travelling at high speed, but most crashes happen at a much lower speed. For example, many toddlers have been killed within the house compound by a reversing vehicle.

Almost all crashes occur when speed is relatively higher than the situation or condition permits, resulting in the driver or rider colliding with other vehicles, obstacles or people. Many collisions could be avoided by identifying and managing the root causes.

Apart from faulty vehicles, poor road conditions and foul weather, the main causes are rushing and distracted driving. In an emergency or when running late, we try to reach the destination as fast as we could.

But many drivers and riders rush out of habit by switching lanes frequently, tailgating, jumping red lights, taking a slippery bend too fast or descending a mountain without changing down the gear by stepping alternately between brake and accelerator pedals resulting in brake fade.

Anyone repeating any of these actions often enough is bound to crash, which are accidents waiting to happen. Academic discussions and road safety campaigns will not reach out to these drivers and riders. The authorities must intervene by identifying and rehabilitating them.

They are the undesirable examples on the road and their bad habits are picked up by other drivers and riders. Road safety experts are aware of the 3E that affects road safety – Engineering, Enforcement and Education. A fourth E can be added – Example.

Closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) must be installed at strategic locations to record reckless driving or riding. The drivers and riders must be hauled up and given a warning and summoned if caught again.

But nothing will change as long as there is little or no enforcement on motorcyclists jump red lights in the city, and crash helmets are not worn in smaller towns and rural areas. Inaction is seen as a blessing by the authorities.

Insurance companies do not cover those driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and can be proven by a blood test. If it is possible, insurers will not cover drivers distracted by using the phone. Distraction could also be caused by deep conversation and rubbernecking.

When it comes to hit-and-run, many people tend to pass moral judgement, expecting all parties involved in the crash to stay put at the scene. It would be naïve and irresponsible for a driver to linger after a crash involving a motorcycle.

A crowd would soon gather and upon seeing the motorcyclist or pillion rider writhing in pain, an incensed passer-by may start confronting the driver and if someone strikes with a punch, others will soon follow.

Drivers who were not at fault confidently stay put at the scene of an accident but not everyone witnessed the collision. A mob could inflict grave injury and if the driver succumbed to death, the assaulters will be in deep trouble, which would not happen if the driver was not around.

Also, it would be unwise to chase a fleeing vehicle after a minor collision as forcing the hit-and-run driver to stop can result in a major crash. Even if one is successful, the driver at fault cannot be forced to pay compensation, which is optional.

The law requires parties involved in road crashes to lodge a police report within 24 hours. The driver at fault will be summoned and parties involved could opt for own damage or third-party insurance claims or pay for repairs out-of-pocket.

As for summons, the named driver is summoned to court to appear at a specific location, date and time. Driving back from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in 1975, I received a summons because one of the bulbs in the tail lamp fused.

Upon reaching home, I realised that I was summoned to appear in court and so I had to drive back to Johor. When asking for direction at the town’s police station, the clerk smiled at me that he will take care of the summons by paying him a small fee.

For illegal parking, the police issue a notice demanding for the driver’s particulars and this is commonly referred to as “saman”. Similar notices sent to the address of registered owners of vehicles caught speeding are known as “saman ekor”.

These are minor offences and compoundable by paying a fine up to RM300, but many choose to wait for discounts as little or no action is taken until the police start to conduct raids at registered addresses.

Using more accurate terminology is only the first step. Radical measures must be introduced to educate the authorities and public for drastic changes to take place. It will remain status quo by dishing out more of the same.

The views expressed here are strictly those of The True Net reader YS Chan from Petaling Jaya.