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Road Fatalities and Dangerous Driving in Malaysia

A recent study by Michigan University rated Malaysia as having some of the world’s most dangerous roads. Based on the research of 193 countries and comparing the road deaths per 100,000 of population, Malaysia was ranked the 17th-most dangerous country. A similar survey earlier this year by the World Health Organisation ranked Malaysia the 20th-most dangerous. Many of the other countries which scored badly in the report were in Africa. In fact, the only Asian country which scored worse than Malaysia was Thailand, a nation also well-known for its high number of road accidents.

The UK is perhaps the best example of a country which has been very successful at reducing the number of road fatalities. Despite its population being twice that of Malaysia it had just 1,754 deaths on the roads in 2012, its lowest ever, compared to Malaysia with 6,917. Perhaps even more impressive is that the UK has reduced the number of road fatalities by over 50% in the last 10 years. By contrast, Malaysia’s road deaths have been trending upwards each year. This can be partly attributed to the substantial increase in the number of vehicle owners in the last decade, with the number of registered vehicles more than doubling since 2000. However, one newspaper report quoted a government official predicting the number of deaths would continue to grow, which is a problem.

Our surveys reveal that just over 90% of expats own one or more cars in Malaysia. However, many of them have told us that they do not use their cars except to drive around the city where they live, simply because they feel the roads are too dangerous. Clearly, if they base this view solely on the research data, they have valid reason for concern.

However, it is worth noting that some 60% of all road deaths here are motorcyclists and their passengers. This will come as no surprise to many expats, as our surveys show that motorcyclists speeding and weaving through traffic is one of the things they like least about living in Malaysia. Apart from the unpredictable motorcyclists, it is also important to be aware that many truck drivers crawl up hills at just a few kilometres an hour, and occasionally break down in the effort with no adequate warning signage. You also need to keep an eye out for the occasional bus driver who drives erratically. Certainly there should be more focus on improving the skills of the bus drivers here, as there have been some very serious accidents involving coaches.

I have always enjoyed driving and have driven in numerous countries around the world. Since coming to live in Malaysia, I have driven hundreds of thousands of kilometres and certainly do not consider the roads to be especially dangerous. That’s not to say there are no risks in driving on Malaysian roads, but it is not sufficient to justify any experienced driver not travelling around the country by car. Driving around Malaysia can be great fun, and there is plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy. The addition of the North-South Highway and the even newer highway to the east coast has made travelling longer distances safer and easier. When I first moved here, it could take six or seven hours to drive to Penang, a journey which can now be done in half that time.

The reality is that the number of road accidents in Malaysia is unquestionably too high, and more needs to be done to address this problem. However, no matter where you drive in the world, or how carefully you drive there, there is always the risk of an accident, and in general, most drivers are competent and responsible. So, if you have been reluctant to take advantage of the road system to discover more about Malaysia, I urge you to give it a try.

If you do drive, do so defensively, and take care out there.

Source: The Expat Magazine August 2014

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