The day I earned my driving license was the start of a brand new chapter of my life. Holding that shiny new card in my hands, I could see all sorts of new opportunities opening up to me.
I was fortunate enough to get a car straight after getting my license — a little reward from my parents. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly a top-class vehicle.
My mum’s Kancil was a creaky old thing that had been around since I was still a kid. The windows kept getting stuck, the aircon wasn’t working properly and the engine sounded like it was about to give up and die whenever I tried to go over 60km per hour.
Driving it around was a real pain, but I truly loved that crappy little car. For the first time in my life, I realised just how much freedom an adult had. I felt like I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted.
Need to buy some snacks? Just drive to the nearest 7-Eleven. Want to visit a friend? No need to beg my mum for a ride, now I could just go there myself. Hear about some cool new restaurant online? I could actually go visit it now.
Sadly, having a driving licence isn’t all fun and games. While I was excited at first, I soon discovered that the license test hadn’t prepared me to face the most dangerous thing on the roads: other drivers.
“Who taught you how to drive?!”
Anyone who’s driven on Malaysia’s roads before will know about our drivers’… colourful reputation.
Most of the people you’ll see on the road are perfectly fine. But at some point, you’ll inevitably run into someone who will make you want to stick your head out the window and yell “Who taught you how to drive?!”
It might be the guy who tries cutting you off without any signal. Or the driver who decides that the yellow traffic light means “I must go as fast as possible”. It could even be the one who decides to install obnoxiously bright headlights to blind everyone in front of him for some ungodly reason.
If you’re a Malaysian driver, you’re going to run into all of them eventually. If you’re really unlucky, they’re all going to be the same person.
Over the past decade, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) has reported a steady rise in road accidents all across Malaysia. They recorded a total of over 4.94 million accident cases — from 414,421 cases in 2010 to 567,516 cases in 2019.
Even though traffic was greatly reduced in 2020 (since most of us were spending the year in lockdown), the MOT still reported no less than 3,118 deaths involving motorcycle riders and 888 deaths involving car riders.
“This is a public health and development crisis, and it is expected to worsen unless action is taken.”— Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) Chief Executive Officer Datuk Seri Dr Mohammed Azman Aziz Mohammed, opening remarks at Vision Zero: Work-related Road Safety (International) Webinar (24 June 2021)
So How Are We Handling This Crisis?
In September 2021, the Royal Malaysian Police announced their plan to reduce accidents: restricting driving licenses for senior citizens.
Their reasoning? Old people are more likely to have health problems (Alzheimer’s, senility, eye problems, etc.) that make it dangerous to drive.
“Indirectly, it can cause accidents on the road and there have been previous cases of a senior citizen driving a vehicle by entering a motorcycle lane.”— Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director Datuk Azisman Alias, special press conference (24 September 2021)
During the press conference, Azisman urged the government to study the issues regarding providing driving licenses to the elderly.
“If a 70-year-old senior citizen renews LKM (license) for a five-year period, it is not suitable at all because of the age factor,” he said.
At first glance, this idea does seem reasonable enough. I can’t say their logic is wrong — even my own grandmother has recently been forced to give up driving due to her bad eyesight!
But at the same time, I can’t help wondering if this idea can actually change the number of accidents happening on our roads every year.
Most Bad Drivers Aren’t Actually That Old
According to the Global Road Safety Facility, 77% of all Malaysian road crash casualties come from those aged 15 to 64 years old.
Out of these accidents, the most vulnerable drivers were those between 15 and 49 years old.
In response to Azisman’s suggestion, several local groups have launched their objections, including President of the Sarawak Gerontology and Geriatrics Society (SGSS) Dennis Tan.
“We feel that the proposal, if approved by the federal government, is unfair to senior citizens as there are no statistics from the police to show that they are among the main contributors to road accidents in the country.”— SGSS President Dennis Tan, official statement (26 September 2021)
He suggested that rather than targeting senior citizens, the police should be going after mentally sick persons, substance abusers and repeat traffic offenders instead.
Another objection came from Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong, who argued that refusing to grant driving licenses to senior citizens simply based on their age would be discrimination.
“Withdrawing or limiting a valid licence to any individual, based solely on their age, should be a matter of last resort and only after assessing a person’s fitness.”— Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong, official statement (25 September 2021)
Aside from the discrimination problem, Wee also pointed out that trying to restrict LKM licenses based on age probably wouldn’t be effective. After all, even if it was implemented, how could they stop an elderly driver from simply borrowing their younger friend or relative’s car to get around that restriction?
In response to these objections, Inspector-General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani declared that the idea of restricting driving licenses for senior citizens was simply a “personal opinion”.
“The proposal was made internally and has yet to be discussed in detail.”— Inspector-General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani, official statement (25 September 2021)
5 Bad Habits That Malaysian Drivers Need To Unlearn
While elderly people aren’t totally guilt-free, the fact remains that most Malaysian bad drivers come from the younger generation. If we want to make our roads safer, we need to put aside our own bad habits and start acting like mature and responsible drivers.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some bad driving habits that the average Malaysian driver could improve on:
Bad Habit #1: Tailgating
Tailgating or “cucuk-ing” is when you start getting waaay too close to the car in front of you, to the point where your bumpers are just about to kiss. This usually comes from road bullies who want to intimidate other drivers and force them to move out of the way.
Tailgating is not only annoying, it’s also very dangerous — by sticking so closely to the other driver, you’ll have no time or space to react to any sudden changes, especially when you’re moving at high speeds.
Bad Habit #2: Hogging the right lane
Despite what some people may think, the right-most lane on the highway is the “overtaking” lane, NOT the “fast” lane. Legally speaking, you’re supposed to just use it to overtake and then return to the middle or left lane, depending on how wide the roads are.
Of course, that’s not always possible. Sometimes you have to stay on the right lane for a while to overtake a stretch of slow drivers, but as long as you drive responsibly and move over in time to let others pass you it should be fine.
Bad Habit #3: Racing traffic lights
Even a kindergartener knows that red means stop and green means go. So why are so many Malaysian drivers having difficulties understanding this idea?
It’s important to follow the rules of the road. While it can be tempting to run the red light when you’re in a hurry, even a single slip-up can lead to a massive accident. Also, despite what some drivers seem to think, the yellow light means “slow down”, NOT “go faster before it turns red”.
Bad Habit #4: Texting while driving
Okay, seriously. You have NO EXCUSE for this one. Fiddling with your phone while driving drastically increases your chances of getting into an accident.
If the message isn’t important, it can wait. And even if you really can’t wait, there’s still no reason to risk your life over a text message. Just pull over, do what you need to do, then get back to driving.
Bad Habit #5: Double parking
We’ve all had to deal with double parking before. Heck, most of us have done double parking before! It’s not a big deal if everyone does it, right?
Wrong. Double parking not only reduces available road space but also blocks someone in. Have you ever had to wait in your car for half an hour because some jerk decided to block your way out? It’s really not fun at all.
Making Malaysia A Safer Place For Everyone
While it’s tempting to point fingers and blame all our problems on another group, punishing the elderly and taking away their driving licenses isn’t the right answer.
If we ever want to make our roads a safer place, we all need to do our part. By kicking aside our bad habits and acting like safe, responsible drivers, perhaps one day we can overcome the stereotype of the bad Malaysian driver and replace it with something more positive instead.
Of course, even if you’ve got your driving license, you can’t be a driver without a car. If you’re interested in learning how to find the perfect car for your lifestyle, be sure to check out: