Reducing accidents and fatalities on the road is always the goal, but are we really doing anything new here?
To start the year strong, the Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia (PIAM) and the Malaysian Takaful Association (MTA) decided to launch their road safety campaign for the year with the hashtag #steadybrader. The campaign is aimed to help educate and promote safe driving behaviour while encouraging road users to remain steady when riding or driving vehicles.
The idea is to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities that have been on the rise since Malaysia has come out of lockdowns and people are returning to the road in huge numbers. There will be a year-long series of activities that includes, but are apparently not limited to:
This all sounds great but let’s be real now: this is nothing new.
During the launch, the one phrase that was constantly being thrown around was “big data”. This was in the context of the accidents and fatalities that were recorded through 2019 and 2020, and the upcoming collected data for 2021. The only problem here is that we’re not entirely sure what makes this information “big data”.
For those who don’t know, “big data” is a relatively modern term that’s used to describe volumes of data that are too large for a person to process, let alone a traditional database. We’re talking about Facebook, Google, Amazon levels of volume and processing requirements, where information is so vast and complex that it’s stored across not a single hard drive, nor single server, but a network of servers around the world.
With respect to the victims and their families, the amount of data talked about here is not large. If we were to focus on fatalities alone in 2019 (which were higher than 2020 for fairly obvious reasons), that would be 6,167 individual people who lost their lives. There are organizations and businesses in Malaysia with a higher headcount than this, and information is processed entirely internally and handled with traditional software.
Even the larger, more complex number of incidents classified as accidents was 567,516 in 2019. The row limit of Microsoft Excel is just under double this figure – and for each row, you can have 16,384 columns worth of data – so we’re not entirely sure why they’re considering this as big data.
When quizzed on what the difference was between this year’s programmes and the programmes from years past, it was said that there would be analysis of the “big data” and the usage of social media to determine driver behaviours in particular parts of the country and to determine which areas are the most prone to accidents to effectively deploy personnel in an effort to improve road safety.
The only real question is why this has not already been put into place? As a culture, Malaysians love to complain – and they do so on any form of social media where anybody can have a voice. It isn’t particularly hard to know where there may be accident-prone areas, bad road conditions, or just a high amount of incidents and fatalities as well as other bad road behaviours.
On top of this, there is the plan to use social media to spread the good word and get people to behave more responsibly on the road – except that most people don’t pay attention to any of these warnings or messages.
One point that was brought up was the topic of insurance black boxes, or telemetry trackers, placed inside vehicles to help provide insurance companies with data on how you drive your car. In simple terms, driving in a safer and more lawful manner scores you “points” that you could use to effectively lower your insurance premium or some other measure.
This is an actual viable option, except that the technology has been in the testing phase locally for the better part of four years, and there still isn’t a viable solution that could apply to a broad number of cars, and not cost an arm and a leg for every insurance provider in terms of sourcing the item.
The sad truth is that nearly everything that was proposed or suggested during the launch of this campaign has been tried before, and hasn’t really worked in any measurable way. In more developed countries, getting people to behave on the road is done through two approaches: far better education at the driving school level, and far heftier fines at the enforcement level.
It was said that over 60% of all accidents and fatalities on the road in Malaysia could be attributed to the motorcycle riding population, and therefore there was an increased need to target these motorists and help to bring down these numbers. In a not insignificant number of these cases, it was delivery riders who were getting into accidents and breaking the law due to being under time pressure from their job.
The proposed solution on the part of PIAM and MTA was to make these delivery companies reduce the time pressure on their riders, though it shows a distinct lack of understanding on their part as reducing time pressure doesn’t stop riders from taking on multiple orders and trying to maximize their earnings per hour.
Amazingly, no data was provided on how many accidents were caused by reckless speeding, or street racing – something that JPJ and PDRM regularly target. One of the most deadly forms of lawbreaking, street racing has been curbed in many other countries through a simple process: give them the venue and time to enjoy their vehicles safely, and they won’t be a nuisance on the road. Unfortunately, this has been proposed for decades and we still have yet to see any suitable racetracks for cars besides Sepang International Circuit.
And of course, there is the ever important issue of education. The driving school curriculum has barely changed in the last half-century, with the only significant difference being that you can now take your test with an automatic vehicle. In countries where driving is taken seriously (because they understand you are piloting a 1.5-tonne steel box that can kill other people), learner drivers are made to understand things like car control, judging road conditions, defensive driving, and more – and they do so over 100 hours instead of the 10 hours that we’re required to do here.
But when asked whether they would introduce any defensive driving courses (such as Pass Plus in the UK) as an incentive to help lower insurance premiums, the panellists did not provide an answer. It is telling that proper solutions often fall on deaf ears, and it is no surprise that we’re ranked so highly in road fatalities and accidents per capita. But hey, at least we’ve got a new hashtag to use this year.