The ‘basikal lajak’ case has come to a conclusion with the verdict of guilty, leading to quite a split of opinion between the public on whether justice was really served.
Judge Abu Bakar Katar of the Johor Bahru high court meted out the sentence under Section 41 (1) of the Road Transport Act 1987, which carries a maximum jail term of 10 years and a fine of RM20,000.
Already, shortly following the sentencing of 27-year old defendant Sam Ke Ting to 6 years in jail and an RM6,000 fine in addition to having her driver’s license banned for a subsequent 3 years after her release, there has been an outcry of disbelief at the verdict.
Some have even started online petitions (with close to 300,000 signatures) to bring more attention to the defendant’s plight in a grassroots attempt to secure her early release or even a retrial.
The 'Basikal Lajak' Accident And How It Happened?
This case has been active for 5 years since the incident occurred on that early 2017 morning. Then 22-year old clerk Sam Ke Ting was driving home along the Johor Bahru Middle Ring Road (Jalan Lingkaran Dalam) at around 3.20am on February 18th when her vehicle caused the death of 8 teenagers - Mohamad Azrie Danish Zulkefli, 14 (at the time); Muhamad Shahrul Izzwan Azzuraimie, 14; Muhammad Firdauz Danish Mohd Azhar, 16; Fauzan Halmijan, 13; Mohamad Azhar Amir, 16; Muhammad Harith Iskandar Abdullah, 14; Muhammad Shahrul Nizam Marudin, 14 and Haizad Kasrin, 16, - who were riding their modified bicycles in a dangerous manner in the middle of the night.
Essentially, they were road hazards.
She was not found to be speeding, under the influence of alcohol or any other illicit substance, nor was she found to be mentally compromised at the time. She was also wearing her seatbelt and was found to be not using her phone. Nevertheless, she has been charged with reckless driving.
The following month, in March 2017, the accused pleaded not guilty at the Johor Bahru Magistrate Traffic Court, and in October 2019, she was found to be acquitted. From there began a legal whirlwind that involved a High Court re-examination, the acquittal being upheld, and multiple appeals that have spilled into this April 2022 verdict of guilty.
Who Is At Fault?
The aforementioned road where this tragedy took place is essentially a highway with cars driving at higher speeds, though it is not subject to a toll. From what we know of the scene, the road was fairly well lit and consisted of 2 lanes on either side.
There is a suspicious lack of transparency when it comes to what evidence has emerged from the scene. Despite it being well lit, there was no dashcam or CCTV footage of what transpired and only flimsy eyewitness and/or first responder accounts to corroborate the forensic evidence collected after the fact.
However, the fact remains that Ms. Sam’s vehicle did make contact with the 8 teenage bicyclists out of a reported 30 youth bicyclists that were occupying the road. And due to its much higher mass, velocity, and physical leverage, we can safely assume they were quite violently ejected from their two-wheeled conveyances.
Who Is More Reckless?
There is still no public-facing testimony or solid evidence to prove that actual reckless driving was at play. However, there is a much more damning case to be presented by the defence.
It is much likelier that the 8 teenagers (or more) were riding in an unsafe, even reckless manner enough to cause a fatal accident while ‘racing’ each other on modified bicycles in the middle of the night. The lack of eyewitnesses at the scene suggests that it was a fairly empty road, which is what you’d expect to find at 3am.
Remember, these deceased victims probably have very little knowledge of road safety, were most definitely not wearing high visibility clothing and likely even had removed the reflectors on their bicycles - all while racing each other in the direction of traffic flow.
On a two-lane stretch such as that found on that stretch of the Johor Bahru Middle Ring Road, it is also very likely that the 8 victims were actively impeding the road as there was little to no hard shoulder. The magistrate also described the road as dark, hilly, and winding.
How hard would it be to avoid slow, barely visible bicyclists arranged (conservatively) 4-in-a-row, who were sat low in a ‘superman’ pose if they were racing each other? With all these handicaps, the odds are stacked against any experienced driver, let alone a 22-year-old at the wheel in the middle of the night.
A Driver’s Rights
Should we be presented with an unavoidable hazard on the road, is it still the fault of the driver that an accident occurs?
There is a limitation on driver alertness and reaction time when the unexpected occurs. As drivers, we are taking a risk every time we start our cars up. We are not defending Sam Ke Ting’s position, but rather the rights of every driver in Malaysia that might now feel vulnerable to uncontrollable circumstances.
This case essentially sets a dangerous precedent that affords other roads users - even ones using the road much more recklessly, even illegally - the unspoken license to immediately place the blame on drivers.
A reductionist’s take on the tragic death of these 8 teenagers might have been to say that the driver, driving on a public highway, had the ‘right of way’ as these are not places suited for bicycles - that the outcome was inevitable and of their own doing. However, we are dealing with human lives, and such a view is deemed insensitive, but how far removed is it from objective justice?
Define ‘Reckless’ Driving....
Of course, all drivers should be alert on the road at all times, and there is little excuse to let that caution lapse when driving along a seemingly empty road at 3 in the morning. This is a very pointed, though sobering reminder.
However, there is a ceiling on how vigilant anyone can reasonably be on the road. The phrase “you can’t be too careful” is often flat-out wrong and clearly absent in the minds of those 8 victims that exercised no caution or good judgement in the circumstances that led to their demise.
When we think of someone driving recklessly, most of us can clearly picture someone weaving in and out of lanes, tailgating another vehicle, cutting them off, performing brake checks, or even trying to ram them off the road.
There is no evidence, at least that the public is aware of, to show that any behaviour of that sort was exhibited by the accused (and now convicted) party in this case. If driving normally and being involved in an accident as the result of someone else’s recklessness and unsafe conduct is somehow found to be our fault, we all need to be worried.
Negligence Is The Real Issue
The question on everyone’s minds is an obvious one: what were these teenagers (as many as 30, reportedly) doing out in the middle of the night? Not only that but engaging in an activity so lacking in safety?
We won’t pretend to know the specific situations of the 8 victim’s family/home lives but it does reflect poorly on the parents that could not, or chose not to, prevent them from developing/pursuing these negative pastimes and social associations.
It’s quite clear that the teens had put themselves in danger, but when the negligence of others has robbed 8 individuals of their lives and put another through 5 years of legal upheaval only to serve another 6 years in jail, something needs to change.