HARESH SAYS: Respecting traffic rules go a long way

As published in Malay Mail today

By Haresh Deol

PEST, menace, imbecile and bodoh.
These are among the words often uttered by drivers when a motorcycle zooms past them.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a biker myself. I’ve been riding motorcycles ever since I left school and still do. On two wheels, it’s not about completing a journey but about enjoying an adventure.
There are motorcyclists, including those on high-powered machines, who deserve a knock on their heads (and I’m being polite) for failing to respect other motorists. Respect, however, works both ways.
Motorcyclists in Malaysia are often treated as “second-class citizens” as many drivers tend to disregard the fact those on two wheels have every right to be on the road as other motorists. Drivers complain of bikers who zig-zag dangerously and rempit where possible.
But many forget that a motorcyclist is as important as the politician in a luxurious sedan, the clerk in a compact car, the cyclist on a beat-up mountain bike or the dog trying to cross the street.
While on the bike, I have experienced numerous episodes involving ignorant drivers. These include:

● Changing lanes without any warning;
● Spitting or throwing cigarette butts out of their vehicles;
● Fiddling with their phones when stuck in traffic, oblivious that motorcyclists are having a tough time squeezing through vehicles especially when it rains;
● Motorists driving over puddles of water, drenching a passing biker; and
● Pushing motorcyclists off the road. 

It does not help that motorcyclists are exposed to other dangerous factors too — potholes, missing manhole covers, sandy/slippery roads, poorly lit streets, falling billboards/branches, to name a few. 
It comes as no surprise why some motorcyclists tend to take matters into their own hands. A video of “vigilante” motorcyclists riding on the emergency lane and kicking the side mirrors of other vehicles using the prohibited lane has made its rounds online.
Police are not amused with such antics as Kuala Lumpur traffic police chief ACP Mohd Nadzri Hussain, had in an English daily on June 5, said the motorcyclists were committing two offences — occupying the emergency lane and damaging vehicles.
If motorcyclists stay on the motorcycle lane, some may argue that such woes will not exist. But many are missing the point that motorists are not allowed to ride or drive on the emergency lane unless it is an emergency.
Also, not all highways have dedicated lanes for bikes. The Ampang-Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway, for one, was not designed to cater to motorcycles. However, thousands of motorcyclists use it daily.
Should motorcycle lanes be made mandatory on all major roads and highways?
Studies have shown such lanes reduced accidents and even motorcyclist deaths on highways by 32 to 39 per cent, according to road safety consultant, Karen Goonting, as quoted by a news portal on June 7. However, constructing them would not mean they would be used, she added.
Goonting said among the issues that plague such lanes are the massive construction cost, lanes not being built properly, flash floods, improper installation of gratings to cover drains, the threat of being robbed and the route of some motorcycle lanes being longer than car lanes.
The motorcycle lane along the Federal Highway comes to mind.
Based on Bukit Aman's traffic statistics, between 2005 and 2014, 39,744 motorcyclists and pillion riders were killed in road accidents.
What is the solution?
Awareness, education and respect.
The 25th International Ride to Work Day was celebrated on Monday. It marked the first day of the International Ride to Work Week (June 20-26). Yet, many are unaware of such a campaign — aimed to promote safe ways to ride to work en route to reducing traffic — exists.
The first Ride to Work Day was held on July 22, 1992. It was initially promoted every third Wednesday in July up until 2008 when it was changed to the third Monday in June. The change was made to better accommodate riders worldwide and to give more riders an opportunity to participate in the annual affair. 
Such campaigns create awareness and it is time the local authorities and enforcement agencies played a pro-active role. Engage with motorists — two, four, six or multiple wheels — at roadblocks. Get them to understand that one silly move can result in a major accident. 
The Hampshire Constabulary in UK is supporting the Ride to Work Week by encouraging bikers to update their skills by viewing their Safe Urban Rider and Urban Filtering films which offer safety advice.
Awareness and education are not enough. There must be respect.
Traffic rules apply to all — whether you are on a 40-year-old 70cc motorcycle or driving a posh sports car. Motorists must respect each other. It takes two to tango.
Being polite goes a long way. Spare a thought for all on the road. Here is where you and I can play our roles.

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol


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