By Mariam Mokhtar
It's 9pm. Your younger children are already in bed, and the teenagers are watching TV in their bedrooms. A few hours later, do you think your older son is still in bed? Should you check up on him?
The bicycling tragedy, which happened in Johor Baru on February 18, is part of a worrying trend. A group of teenage bicyclists were involved in an accident with a car, driven by a 22-year-old woman, in the early hours of the morning. Eight cyclists died and a further eight were hospitalised. Their ages ranged from 13 to 17 years old.
The questions that ran through most people's minds were these: What were children doing on the streets, at 3am? Did they have their parents' permission?
Those of us who have the misfortune of having experienced Mat Rempits driving near us, performing daredevil stunts on their modified bikes, ignoring the highway code and the safety of other road users and themselves, would be horrified to learn that there is a group of younger teenagers, who are an equal menace, called the ‘Mosquito Bikers’.
Is the Mosquito Bike menace common in Ipoh, or for that matter, anywhere in Perak? Some people say that it is a rural phenomenon. Is it, as some people claim, a tragedy waiting to happen? We know that some straight stretches of road, in and around Ipoh, are used by Mat Rempits for racing, but for bicycles too?
In the accident in Johore, the cyclists had amassed along a hilly stretch of the Middle Ring Road, in Johor Baru, to race. When interviewed, some of them admitted that the gatherings were always conducted after midnight so that they can race one another. Bets are sometimes placed.
According to various reports, the bikes are often modified and cyclists usually perform stunts in the middle of the road, with complete disregard for other road users. They have no care for the traffic rules and ignore attempts to persuade them to ride elsewhere.
The police are aware of these activities and have tried their best to disperse these groups, whose members come to Johor Baru, from other areas, to take part in these races. The police try their best, to contain these groups, but when the cyclists see the policemen approaching, they quickly disband, only to regroup when the coast is clear.
The policemen cannot do the job of the parents. Nor can the school discipline the children, outside of school hours. Why are the parents so lax? Why do they indulge their children, so much? It is not neglect, as some quarters have suggested, but over-indulgence.
I know one set of parents who gave in to their daughter's demands for material goods, because that was the only way they could make her do anything. If she did not get what she wanted, she would throw a tantrum. If she did not feel like going to school, there was nothing they could say or do, to make her attend. If she was told not to go out, she would threaten to harm herself.
How it is possible for several teenagers, to gather in the streets without their parents knowledge? If the parents are aware that their children are missing, are they not concerned about what they could get up to? Is this what is known as modern parenting?
Why do the teenagers gather in the streets late at night? Is it because they are bored with daytime school? Is it because the roads are empty at night, and that is the best time to practise their dare-devil stunts?
If the teenagers need a thrill, such as this dangerous stunt cycling and racing, why are we unable to channel this excess energy into something productive, during decent hours? Why should these teenagers terrorise other road users, and jeopardise their safety?
Why are these teenagers unable to form, or join, a cycling club and be taught the highway code, road manners and how to be a responsible cyclist?
We are told that the teenagers modify their bikes, to resemble motorbikes and also to make them go fast and make a lot of noise. Why can't activity clubs in schools take up the challenge of utilising the knowledge of these teenagers, into more productive projects?
There have been suggestions that these teenagers could use parks to race. Why should they? Parks are areas where people go for rest and quiet contemplation, to appreciate the beauty of the greenery. People do not want to be drowned out by noises and shouting from a group of rowdy teens.
In Ipoh, there is one place, which is a perfect area for the Mosquito teen bikers, (if they do exist in Ipoh), to race. It is the Ipoh Velodrome*. Remember the fanfare when the place was opened to the public?
Sorry...I forgot! The Ipoh Velodrome has been allowed to become run-down. It is a white elephant. No wonder our teenagers are unable to channel their energies properly and safely, because the adults have let them down.
*Editor’s note: Velodrom Rakyat is now closed for repairs.