IN the late 1990s, federal and Kuala Lumpur traffic police combined to mount a major operation over one weekend.
They installed roadblocks at the end of Jalan Raja Laut with the aim of getting a hold of Mat Rempit and other people violating traffic laws and regulations.
It was a time when the Mat Rempit menace was at its height, with illegal races held every weekend in the federal capital. For several hours, observers could see many motorcyclists make an about-turn and ride in the opposite direction of traffic flow, weaving in and out in a bid to escape censure from the law. Many came close to meeting an untimely end, but none, amazingly, ended up crashing into any oncoming vehicle.
There were those who even tried to ram into the policemen manning the roadblocks, though none succeeded. Some were caught, some managed to get away.
The frustration for some traffic policemen boiled over and a few became aggressive. One plainclothes cop went a little too far. As one motorcyclist made a U-turn and zipped through oncoming traffic, this policeman stepped onto the middle of the busy road, took a few running steps and attempted a “flying kick” at the motorcyclist. Thankfully, the policeman missed or it would have been curtains for the motorcyclist and the cop.
Those detained were taken back to the city traffic police headquarters in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee.
Several of those stopped by police were found to be underage, having taken motorcycles belonging to their fathers or elder brothers. There was even one who was riding his father’s old Vespa, “Superman-style”. It was something that left the cops and observers laughing uncontrollably.
The parents of the underage riders were called there. When one parent turned up, even the police were left stunned for a moment or two. Without saying a word, the old gentleman gave his teenage son a slap with such force that the sound actually reverberated throughout the compound. When the lad tried to say something, his father slapped him again, even harder this time.
So what motivates people to ride through heavy traffic, endangering life and limb, risking reprisals from law enforcement? It is not the race per se, it has to be said. It is the adrenalin which courses through their bodies. It is the sense of accomplishment, misplaced though it may be, that they have cheated death and the police. It is that pride from showing off in front of people.
They are in it for the money. They are in it for the “glory”. They are in it for the women who sometimes are there for the taking.
The recent suggestion by Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor that certain roads in Kuala Lumpur be closed at times to organise legal street races raised many an eyebrow and the blood pressure of quite a number of people.
To be fair, the honourable minister had surely meant well. It was an attempt not just to steer these young riders onto the right path, but also to stop illegal racing, which endangers the lives of riders, other motorists and even pedestrians.
But Tengku Adnan must also understand the concerns of others. City folk have had to put up with Mat Rempit for decades now, so they can’t be blamed for not wanting what has become something of a subculture to be legitimised.
They are also concerned that closing off certain roads will cause unnecessary congestion at a time when there should be none.
Should Tengku Adnan’s idea actually turn out to be a success, people are afraid that there will be more and more gangs of young motorcyclists roaming the streets, encouraged by their now-legitimised activities.
Whether or not the idea will even take off remains to be seen. But if it does, there are many who doubt it will succeed.
Those close to the issue of Mat Rempit who were interviewed by the New Sunday Times believe it will not be of much consequence. They cite the fact that the Mat Rempit are not really into motor sports, having done work with these young riders for the Youth and Sports Ministry.
Perhaps Tengku Adnan and Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin should sit down together and come up with some other way of attracting the participation of Mat Rempit and ending illegal street races and other activities associated with them.
Better yet, they should engage these riders and get them to come up with ideas. After all, not everyone engaged in such activities may want to go into motor sports, just like not everyone who plays football at the neighbourhood padang wants to play football for a living.
The important thing, though, is for everyone to keep on trying, keep on brainstorming ideas, to stop illegal street races.
Leslie Andres has more than two decades of experience, much of which has been spent writing about crime and the military. A die-hard Red Devil, he can usually be found wearing a Manchester United jersey when outside of work