Despite the very high car ownership rates among expats, many tell us they do not feel comfortable driving long distances in Malaysia. That’s a pity because road trips can be a lot of fun and great way to explore the country.
Having driven tens of thousands of kilometres on Malaysian roads, most of which are of very good quality, I can testify that the risk of an accident is low if you drive with appropriate attention to the road and other drivers.
Although the number of road deaths in Malaysia continues to be quite high compared to developed countries, it has been steadily falling relative to the number of registered vehicle on the roads. It generally hovers just below 7,000 deaths a year, compared to, say, the UK, which has many more registered vehicles, but has managed to reduce annual road deaths to around 1,700 a year.
Drivers on the road
Motorcyclists account for nearly half the fatalities in Malaysia, which will come as no surprise to most expats, as our surveys show they are high on the list of expats’ ‘dislikes’ about living in Malaysia. Often overlooked are the older motorbike riders, simply driving from point A to B, who are largely ignored by other road users and become victims through little or no fault of their own.
Bus drivers need to be watched, as most seem to exceed their vehicles’ maximum approved speed limit of 90kph. A relatively newer risk is people who choose to use their mobile phones while driving. I have had many cars drift into my lane and found the driver holding their phone in one hand as I passed.
I recall, as a young child, my father always tried to get the family car to go above 60 mph (100kph) at least once on every long journey, much to my mother’s annoyance. Everyone tensed in the car as he pushed the speed closer and closer to this target and the car often seemed to sway as we approached 60, but that might have been in my imagination. Once he had passed the magic number he immediately slowed to a safer speed, accompanied by sighs of relief all round.
Nowadays, nearly all new cars can easily and safely drive at 100kph and faster. Malaysia’s top-selling budget car, the Myvi, can often be seen driving at much higher speeds, especially on the major highways. It is interesting to note that, despite the much improved quality and safety of modern cars, the speed limits in most counties have remained unchanged for the last 50 years. The US is a notable exception, as many of its interstate highways have seen speed limit increases in the last couple of decades.
I have always held the view that the risk from speeding comes primarily from the driver and the vehicle they are driving and not necessarily the absolute speed. If you drive along Malaysian highways, you will find many cars driving over the maximum speed limit of 110kph, simply because it is not inherently dangerous to do so in the cars they drive. Sadly, ever present in the mix are some vehicles (and drivers) that should certainly be restricted to lower speeds.
Long distance driving around Malaysia is still worth a shot
If you have not taken any driving trips around Malaysia, it is well worth the effort to do so, as there are plenty of attractive destinations to visit. If you live in KL or Penang, Ipoh is a relatively short drive away and Lonely Planet has just listed it as one of the top 10 places to visit in Asia in 2016.
Happy – and safe – driving!
See also: The ExpatGo Guide to Driving in Malaysia