By Mariam Mokhtar
Not all government departments are inefficient. Late one Tuesday afternoon, a friend was caught speeding on a highway by an Automated Enforcement System (AES) camera. A few days later, on a Friday morning, a postman knocked at his front door and handed him a traffic summons. How’s that for speedy service? If only the local council and agencies of the state could be as efficient when ratepayers demand that their drains be cleared, their rubbish collected, and the arrest of Mat Rempits who race on residential roads.
Malaysians are more annoyed about the way in which the contracts to supply and operate the AES cameras were awarded, than they are with the eventual 831 cameras being deployed nationwide.
They are angry that the project, awarded to two private companies, involved a process that was neither transparent nor clear. Having experienced regular toll charge increases, they are afraid that the AES will be open to similar abuse.
They want monies from the fines to be diverted into programmes which will improve the transportation network, including the repair and maintenance of roads, and not be used to enrich individuals of the two AES companies.
A mainstream paper reported, in November, that the Road Safety Department director-general Leslie Leon said, “You say people are angry. Of course they are angry. Before this, people could do whatever they wanted on the roads but now with the AES, they can’t…”
This writer has seen vehicles reversing and making U-turns on the highway, parking or reversing on roundabouts and drivers who do not indicate. There are lorries and buses which do not use lights at night, have broken tail lights, belch thick, black smoke, and have number plates which are obscured with mud. Some lorry and bus-drivers overtake dangerously and some lorries can barely move because they are overladen.
Many of us have witnessed policemen driving their official cars recklessly and parking in dangerous places. Who dares report them, for fear of being harassed by the same people who should be setting a good example on the roads?
The AES only addresses speeding, it will do nothing to deter other selfish road users.
Leon also claimed that police statistics show that motorbike crashes involved speeding cars. He also claimed that the AES would make motorbike riders safer, because vehicles would slow down thus allowing more time to react, and avoid accidents.
It has been shown in England that speed is rarely a factor in crashes, but it is very easy to fine motorists for exceeding an arbitrarily enforced limit.
This writer was once driving at 30 mph, along a road, when a motorbike suddenly veered across her path to turn right, into a kampong. The rider, who was not wearing a helmet, did not indicate.
The villagers from the kampong surrounded my car and threatened me with parangs when I tried to swop insurance details with the rider. At the nearest police station in Batu Gajah, several hours were spent making a report.
The police investigating the crash replied many weeks later, to say that they could not (or would not?) prosecute. The motorbike rider was not the vehicle owner, nor was the motorbike insured and she did not have a valid driving licence. When the authorities are reluctant to prosecute offenders, few people will bother to report crimes, or traffic violations.
A young friend who drives to college stayed behind after normal school hours, to do some research. As she drove home, her vehicle was surrounded by several cars driven by young men, the equivalent of Mat Rempits in cars, who tried to force her off the road.
Shaken by the incident, she is now ferried to college by her parents. How does one instil independence and confidence in our youth when road bullies are allowed to get away with their crimes?
The AES will do nothing to improve the road manners of drivers, nor will it reveal uninsured vehicles, or un-roadworthy vehicles, or road bullies. The AES will not solve the problems caused by bad roads, poor road signs, inadequate lighting and badly timed traffic lights.
Instead of paying for the AES, the Ministry of Transport should spend money on educating road users and ensure there is strict traffic enforcement at all times, not just before a festival or the balik-kampong rush. The AES will not induce better road manners outside that particular speed-trap zone.
Malaysians who drive cars in Europe, America and Australia respect the highway codes for fear of prosecution. They realise that back home, the same enforcement does not exist and that there are easy ways to “settle” traffic violations.
Penang, Kedah, Kelantan and Selangor have opted to ban the AES, thus presenting Leon and the Ministry of Transport an opportunity to study trends in the behaviour of road-users.
A comparison of serious accidents and fatalities between the states which have, and states which do not have the AES may prove useful. The states which use AES are unlikely to show a reduction in serious accidents, but the directors of the two companies will be rich from speeding fines.