Politicising life and death

By Rita Sim | rita.sim@
08 November 2012
LET me tell you about a country that has devised a tool to catch criminals in the act of breaking the law.
This tool enables enforcement authorities to track down wrongdoers in many locations, punish them and effectively reduce deaths of innocent people.
For some reason, however, there are people opposing the use of this tool. They say that the tool will “burden” the criminals.
They say that there should be signs put up to alert wrongdoers about the tool, so that they can avoid them (and go on to commit the same atrocity elsewhere, presumably).
The country is Malaysia. The tool is the Automated Enforcement System (AES) and the “criminals” are drivers who speed on the road and run red lights, putting themselves and other road users in danger.
As for those opposing the AES? They are the usual suspects — political players who see the potential to cause disruption and cast doubt on the project by making opaque statements about “having the people’s best interests at heart”.
There is no denying that public policies and initiatives should be exposed to scrutiny. Feedback and constructive criticism will help to improve any given initiative and remind the implementers that taxpayers are watching them.
If those opposing the AES have evidence that the system will cause more accidents or can propose a better alternative, then they have justification to criticise it.
But in the furore over the AES, there have been no suggestions of a better way to curb road accidents. Neither can the detractors deny the merits of a system that will save lives.
The fact is, there are too many deaths due to speeding and reckless driving, which have not been effectively addressed through current enforcement.
Every year, at least 6,000 people die on our roads in over 400,000 accidents. Malaysia also has the highest fatal accident rate in Asean, at 23.6 road deaths per 100,000 people.
Meanwhile, people are quibbling over the location of the cameras and protesting the issuance of summonses under the system, as if being fined is the worst thing that could happen when people drive recklessly.
Among the authorities, there are turf wars over which enforcement agency should have been given the task of implementing the AES.
However, the knee-jerk reaction by four Pakatan Rakyat state governments to block the installation of AES cameras tops it all. What will happen then? Will we have drivers who only follow the law in nine states, but can afford to be reckless in the other four, two of which have the highest number of speeding black spots?
Everyone knows that Malaysian drivers behave with impunity on the road because they think that they will not get caught, or will be able to finagle their way out if they are stopped by the police. Therefore, Malaysian drivers must learn their lesson the hard way. Hitting them where it hurts the most — their pockets — will drive home the message that there is no compromise for public safety.
There is no need for more education campaigns. If Malaysians do not know by now that speed limits are to be obeyed and red lights mean “stop”, then we should not be on the road at all.
Furthermore, an automated system would drastically reduce corruption among enforcement officers, in one fell swoop. Something for our cynical society to cheer about, surely?
But as I mentioned in my last column, the politicking has reached an absurd level in our country. Politics has crept into our education system, left its sticky fingers on our healthcare and now threatens to cast a shadow over public safety.
Those playing this dangerous game of divide-and-conquer should think about what “the people’s interests” really are the next time they drive down the New Klang Valley Expressway with a 10-tonne lorry speeding down behind them.
Surely it is in everyone’s interests to protect lives.
Writer is a co-founder of the Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE)

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