The Elephant in the Room Is Example

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As long as bad examples are the norms on our roads, the 3Es will have little effect.

When asked on strategy in helming his ministry in an interview, Transport Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong said he will be guided by the 3Es – engineering, education and enforcement. He added that education and awareness are a must before new plans are rolled out.

However, when it comes to road safety, buy-in is crucial as awareness may not be enough and education has failed miserably in our country. A good example being the controversial Automated Enforcement System (AES) that was introduced in September 2012.

Shortly after its implementation, I pointed out that the 14 AES cameras were each recording an average of 567 offences per day, and if all 830 cameras were to be installed as planned, they could collectively record a staggering 171,772,650 offences in a year. It led to a public outcry.

Although the AES was effective, there was no buy-in and the lopsided agreements were later terminated, with concessionaires compensated at taxpayers’ expense. A new concessionaire was later appointed, but the shareholding was still tied to the two original concessionaires.

There has been no shortage of experts in advising or running the various departments in the Transport Ministry, and the 3Es have been mentioned since December 2003 when I attended a road safety seminar at Balai Berita following a horrific road accident.

In 2010, I proposed adding another E to the 3Es in my letter to a daily and won a voucher for bagging “Letter of the Week”. The fourth E being Example. It is well-known that children learn more through examples, especially from their parents, and less on what they were told.

Likewise, new drivers will discard what they have learned and copy the bad habits of seasoned drivers to look cool. The same goes for new staff starting work in the office or in enforcement. They quickly blend in, lest their idealism sticks out like a sore thumb.

Lack of enforcement on our roads have emboldened many motorists and especially motorcyclists, with most of them ignoring red lights when the coast is clear. In smaller towns and rural areas, no one bat an eyelid when crash helmets are not worn.

But what is even more scary are several children seen riding pillion and hanging on for dear life to or from the nursery, kindergarten or primary school. Instead of walking, the adult chose convenience and many of these children will start riding motorcycles long before reaching 16.

As long as bad examples are the norms on our roads, the 3Es will have little effect as proven by dismal statistics since 2003. That year, I proposed that concessionaires be appointed so that companies can hire and train staff to handle video cameras to record offences on the road.

These camera crews are not allowed to hide behind pillars or bushes but to operate in full view of road users. The objective is to deter motorists and motorcyclists from committing traffic and parking offences, and not wait for them to commit and then capture the acts on camera.

But many would remain stubborn and there will be enough for the camera crews to capture, as they are to be paid based on clear evidence submitted to enforcement agencies for summonses to be issued.

Such an arrangement does not require the Government to spend a single sen but get to collect more revenue from those who ought to be penalised. More importantly, it would make our roads safer for all, including those who rush not because they were late but out of habit.

The presence of camera crews would also deter street crimes such as snatch thefts as motorcyclists jumping red lights would be fearful that they may be recorded by one or more cameras.

The camera crews must pay special attention to those with broken number plates by zooming in on the faces of the motorcyclist and pillion rider. Few crimes are committed in cities where surveillance cameras are everywhere, like in China.

Another effective measure is using dashboard cameras to capture traffic offences such as driving recklessly, on emergency lanes or overtaking on double lines. Rear-facing cameras could also capture those fond of tailgating.

When actions are taken against large number of errant motorists and motorcyclists, our roads will become more orderly and safer, as most road users will fall in line. Otherwise, many will continue with their antics if they see it is a norm on our roads.

It is time the authorities think beyond the 3Es and embrace the fourth E. Things will not change and remain largely the same if they cannot see the elephant in the room. Dishing out more of the same and expecting better result has often been described as insanity.

The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own/strictly those of The True Net reader YS Chan of Petaling Jaya.