Mind reading seems expected on our roads. You’re supposed to know the moment a vehicle plans to turn without signal; the exact second that queue-cutter is barging into your lane; that very instant when this particular motorcyclist will decide to go faster at a yellow light. You’re supposed to be gifted with heightened senses, an acute awareness of your surroundings where you can still drive while checking your phone.
Like a mandatory requirement, you’re supposed to receive these powers when you are issued a driver’s license. Otherwise, why are you on the road?
Of course we all know mind reading is impossible. The brain needs time – even if just a nanosecond – to register danger, for the thought to turn into action, the swift response to avert a collision. However, we are not always able to react fast enough, or to have luck on our side at all times. Accidents only take a split second. A brief glance away. A blink of an eye. A single moment of poor concentration or lapse of judgment.
It’s easy to say, “Oh, that won’t happen to me”. You abide by the rules though sometimes you may bend them a little to your benefit – especially when the police are not around and you can get away with it – like, going too fast or too slow when you feel like it; overtaking from the wrong lane because you think it’s possible to beat that vehicle; egging the “slow-pokes” to move faster because you absolutely need to arrive at your destination in five seconds; making an illegal turn because it’s so troublesome to drive two kilometres further for the legal one. It may sound brilliant to install those hurricane torch-like headlights to help you see better on the road, but not so much for other road users who are blinded by them along the way.
The 2013 World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety ranked road accidents injuries as the eighth leading cause of death in the world. According to the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS), the nation sees about 19 fatalities daily from road accidents alone. As of November 2014, the Sarawak Road Safety Department (JKJR) recorded 362 fatalities and 170 serious injuries on our roads. That’s about one fatality per day on average.
We can go on with the statistics, really. We can call for stricter laws, better enforcement and education about road safety. When accidents occur, we can also play the blame game – bad roads, poor weather, vehicle condition. But know that 65% of road accidents are caused by human error, and perhaps not so surprisingly, on straight roads and in good weather.
There are more vehicles on the road today (MIROS recorded that Sarawak has 1.5 million registered vehicles on the road in 2013, and this number increases by 100,000 annually). All road users want safe travels from Point A to Point B. Kudos to those who are diligent about being mindful and conscientious on the road. But how many of us consider the randomness of our behaviour while sharing the road with others? How many are willing to invest in hands-free kits or proper alert triangles (instead of yanking a branch off the poor tree nearby)? Are these more expensive than the value of life itself?
It’s one thing to be aware of road safety, another to apply the practice. Change of mindset and attitude makes all the difference. The freedom of mobility is a joy shared by many. Don’t spoil it for everyone with selfish behaviour. The price to pay for putting safety last is too costly.
Andrea Tan is a Kuching-born writer based in Kuala Lumpur. Aside from playing with words, she is teaching herself to draw so she can tell stories with illustrations too.