AES: Cash Cow or Behaviour Control

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by Mariam Mokhtar

For those who are not aware, the Automated Enforcement System (AES), or ‘speed traps’, were first installed on September 23, along accident-prone areas in Perak, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Three states – Kedah, Kelantan and Penang have suspended the use of the AES.

According to the Road Transport Department (RTD),  the first tranche would be 14 AES cameras; ten cameras to record drivers who break the speed limit, and four to catch drivers who jump red lights. Within the next 18 months, a further 817 cameras will be deployed.

Even before they were installed, the AES cameras attracted much controversy. Politicians from both the ruling and opposition coalitions have requested that the AES be delayed so that a proper study can be conducted and the results incorporated into future road safety plans. Members of the public claim that the speed traps are not meant to reduce traffic casualties or improve road safety, but are a covert means of “profiteering” at the expense of the motorist.

A self-employed man based in Ipoh who makes regular working trips to Kuala Lumpur said, “These AES cameras act like cash tills for the government. If the authorities want to improve the behaviour of people on the roads, they should enforce the existing laws, strictly.”

“Instead of doing that, the law-enforcers, who are obviously not doing their jobs, then break the law themselves, by accepting bribes, to let off motorists who have broken traffic rules.”

“It’s all relative isn’t it? RM50 is more acceptable to parting with  than RM300 for a traffic offence. The policeman or the RTD officer is happy, the errant motorist is relieved. ”

Another person when contacted agreed that speed traps are a con: “They’re (AES cameras) just there to create money. First, from the purchase of the cameras; secondly, from the speeding fines and lastly, from the maintenance contracts.”

Norma, a geriatric motorist said, “The AES would be a good idea if they were only placed on genuine accident black-spots.”

In a Malaysian daily, Transport Minister Kong Cho Ha said that of the 831 AES cameras, 566 were for detecting speeding and 265 were for use at traffic lights. These included 250 mobile cameras for areas which lacked electricity and communication cables.

Kong has defended the AES stating that its aim was to raise public awareness of road safety and make them more alert, not just to collect fines. He believed that the AES would help reduce the frequency of accidents and deaths.

According to the transport minister, three years after the AES was adopted, deaths from traffic accidents in France were reduced by 27%, whilst in Germany, 80% of road users did not exceed the speed limit and in Kuwait, the AES reduced accidents by 48%.

Could Kong have got his facts wrong? There is no speed limit on German autobahns.

Despite the installation of the AES last month, around 100 demonstrators staged a protest outside the RTD office in Ipoh, on October 17, in an effort to force the government to cancel the AES. They carried placards and collected signatures for their cause. Members of the group wanted to create awareness of the extra burden that has been placed on the rakyat, who are already feeling the strain from recent austerity measures. They warned of similar protests in other states.

The group chanted “Kroni kaya, rakyat derita (cronies get rich whilst the people suffer)” as well as “Hidup rakyat (long live the people)”. Others poured scorn on the AES and called it a sham by billing it a ‘SR1M’ or ‘Saman (summons) Rakyat 1Malaysia’, imitating the much maligned Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M).

An online newspaper reported that the Transport Ministry had replied in parliament that the total investment for the AES by the two firms, ATES Sdn Bhd and Beta Tegap Sdn Bhd, (both of which have been authorised to operate the AES), was RM717 million. However, online reports stated that Jenoptik Robot (Germany) had signed a US$53 million (RM160 million) contract to install around 550 stationary and mobile systems for ATES, whilst the deal between Redflex Traffic Systems Pty Ltd (Australia) and Beta Tegap was for 450 fixed speed cameras, at US50 million (RM151 million).

Comments from concerned citizens include:

“If the cameras cost RM311 million what happened to the other RM407 million?”

“Why are private companies involved? Is the AES really to improve road safety or is it a cash cow for crony companies?”

The online paper also quoted a New Straits Times report that in the first eight days of the AES’s operation, around 64,000 traffic offences had been captured on camera.

An irate motorist said: “We have no choice but to use toll roads and fork out money. We are then harassed by these speed cameras, where motorists only slow down just because of their presence but afterwards, carry on driving haphazardly.

“The rich and powerful can get their fines waived, but what about the poor? If the authorities are really concerned about Malaysians driving dangerously, address the source of the problem and get rid of ‘kopi-o licences’ and weed out errant enforcement officers. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of motorists, who drive without licenses, valid insurance or use vehicles which are not road-worthy.”

An expat in Ipoh said, “Speed cameras are equally unpopular in England and many are destroyed with a “Nigerian necklace”; a tyre is hung over the camera and set alight.

“Crashes are often caused when people brake sharply for a speed camera. Far from making motorists safer, speed cameras distract motorists, who keep scanning for speed cameras, rather than concentrating on the road ahead.”