NST Leader: Highway butcher's bill

ANNUAL deaths from traffic accidents have been historically and unnervingly high. Just last year, 4,400 people were killed in 402,000 accidents, injuring at least 100,000. These figures seem to be an improvement — there were years when that topped 7,200 killed. Deaths by traffic accidents are more significant than deaths by domestic drug abuse (322 annually) or gunshot wounds (less than 100 annually). Only infectious or organ-related diseases like Covid-19 registered higher figures, but they are a once in a lifetime plague, unlike deaths by traffic accidents, which is a daily tragedy.

So, why not ban vehicles, which have become deadlier instruments than drug trafficking or gun possession? They could. Imagine a scenario where such vehicles, excluding low-powered motorcycles and bicycles, are barred. People are only permitted to travel on extremely regulated public transportation. Professionals helming airplanes, trains, ships, buses, taxis and e-hailing vehicles are subjected to biannual medical and competency assessments. Licences to operate these public vehicles are expensive and coveted, but returns are lucrative. The Dewan Rakyat had enough of the uncontrollable traffic deaths to finally conceive an unpopular law to impose the ban.

Relax. This scenario isn't happening — yet — but the allegory fits our debilitating vehicular fatalities, a deadly daily routine. Tragically, we are comfortably numb to the grim reaper's invoice. We nonchalantly risk our lives every time we hit the road. So, what can be done now? Perhaps we could still borrow a fraction of the abovementioned scenario: it wouldn't be a bad idea if motorists are compelled to use public transport to cut down fait accompli accidents and deaths. But that would mean a new logistical conundrum to make public transport attractive, like London's Tube. Nevertheless, the public transport critique is self-defeating. Malaysians are far too besotted with their sedans and SUVs to even consider taking the bus or train.

Owning wheels is the ultimate freedom of movement expression. Besides, parking is easy and everywhere. Try diminishing vehicle recreation by hiking insurance and road tax, constructing expensive-to-enter restricted zones in the city or tripling the vehicle sales tax to force the switch to public transport. Wait for the vicious public rancour. It's all been previously propositioned, only to be undone by weak-willed political capitulation. We haven't even figured in poorly architectured roads, killer bends, confusing signs, unroadworthy vehicles and stormy weather. Highway deaths are all down to wretched human foibles, notwithstanding tougher traffic laws or spanking new highways or the latest safe driving features in vehicles. So grieve all you like about the highway butcher's bill because palliative measures are hoary promises and rants. Just be supremely cautious when you enter the highway and make sure your insurance coverage is secure. You'll need it.

Most Popular
Related Article
Says Stories