A BIG announcement was made by Road Transport Department (RTD) director-general Datuk Seri Shaharuddin Khalid last week.
Participants in the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme and Malaysians with foreign driving licences can convert their licences to a Malaysian driving licence beginning this November.
When I moved to Kuala Lumpur, having your foreign licence converted was as easy as queuing up patiently at any RTD office.
All one needed back then was the licence, a passport and a photograph, or shall I say, a mugshot.
Of course, you also needed plenty of reading material, a cushion to sit on, and many, many hours to spare.
I remember wishing that I had brought refreshments and some snacks along too.
Regardless of my personal discomfort, having my Swiss driving licence converted was as straightforward a procedure as anyone could hope for.
But that experience was not shared by my fellow foreign residents, who joined our ranks this year, as conversions had been suspended since September last year.
Therefore, it is welcome news that at least some of us may now again acquire legal permission to further contribute to the country’s daily traffic jams.
I applaud the RTD’s efforts to make our roads safer for everyone. However, I am not fully convinced that conversion for some and test-taking for others will remedy the issue of what is known far and wide as the Malaysia boleh driving style.
Having braved Kuala Lumpur traffic for many years, accident-free I might add, I would have enough anecdotes to entertain a small crowd at a stand-up comedy show.
For your entertainment, let me share a few gems here:
There was this lady, a neighbour of mine. As we all do, she had been driving her children to and from school, tuition, football and social gatherings for years.
Once her son turned 17 and took up driving classes, she decided to sign up for the Malaysian driving examination herself.
Both the missus and her son showed up for their test on the same day; he was considerably more nervous than she was.
By lunch time, and to her eternal shame, however, he passed the road test and she failed. Was he the better driver than she was? Obviously not!
Used to handling a massive sports utility vehicle, she had simply tried in vain to convert her skills to the cramped conditions of the test centre’s Kancil.
At the other end of the spectrum, let me tell you about this very elegant, well-to-do lady who I once met at a party.
She was beleaguering her friend and demanding to be met at noon sharp the next day at a certain high-class car dealership. She was adamant; it seemed to be a do-or-die situation.
Never one to mind my own business, I inquired about the emergency at hand.
“She is taking possession of her new luxury sedan tomorrow,” I was informed.
“She has never learned to drive in reverse and she would hate to make a bad impression at the dealership. She needs my help.”
Those of you who follow my column will remember reading all about the poor soul who taught me the art of driving as a youngster.
During his visit to Kuala Lumpur many years later, he found himself horrified at the blatant disregard for road safety, courtesy and rules that he witnessed here.
But more to the point, he was dismayed at my acquired “local” driving style.
We all like to call it “While in Rome…” and laugh it off.
But the fact is that most of us foreign licence holders used to abide by far safer driving standards when we drove in our countries of provenance than we display after a few months of survival on Malaysian roads.
Sure, the new rules that ask us to pass the road exam here won’t hurt. However, it would hardly make a dent towards improving general road safety locally.
As long as Malaysian driving schools and testing facilities don’t improve their criteria, licences can be obtained without learning to safely reverse a luxury sedan, and rules and regulations will be viewed as mere suggestions. No measures introduced by RTD will yield any real and much-needed progress.
The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate