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LETTER | Be streetwise to ensure your safety and survival

LETTER | Unless confined to our homes by choice or circumstance, we go out daily. For shorter distances, we may walk or cycle. For travelling longer distances, we use private vehicles or public transport. Upon reaching our destinations, we may have to walk on the streets in the vicinity.

But danger lurks the moment we step out of our front door. Tragically, there have been too many reports of children, especially toddlers, being rolled over by cars reversing out of houses. While speeding may have resulted in most accidents, rushing may well have been the main cause.

While driving, we should regularly look up at traffic far ahead and not just the vehicle in front. But many motorists do not practise defensive driving, as can be seen when cars are tailgating or racing towards traffic lights showing red, only to be followed by hard braking to stop the car in time.

We ought to slow down immediately upon noticing that one or more drivers of distant vehicles have stepped on the brakes or changed lanes. When traffic ahead is no longer flowing smoothly and the situation is starting to turn chaotic, some drivers may drive erratically.

In heavy traffic, motorcyclists gleefully ride past and weave through whatever gaps they could find, not realising that they may not be spotted by motorists about to change lanes. Many such accidents have occurred, resulting in nasty injuries, with some losing their limbs or even their lives.

It is no surprise that motorbike users accounted for over 70 percent of road accident fatalities nationwide. For pedestrians, and this includes all of us, we are also exposed to many dangers that many are unaware of, or prefer to be nonchalant, especially when crossing a street or road.

For example, jaywalking is illegal in Malaysia if it is within 100m of a designated pedestrian crossing or overhead bridge. This is seldom enforced but some years ago, the police carried out an operation in Kuala Lumpur at Jalan Sultan Ismail between Sungei Wang Plaza and Lot 10.

The unlucky few that were summoned included Caucasian tourists that were merely following what the locals were doing, as in the proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. However, it was certainly not the best way to welcome visitors, as the unpleasant experience left a bad taste in their mouths.

In Malaysia, five-foot ways are incorporated into the design of shophouses to shelter pedestrians from the sun and rain. But they are often blocked by shops displaying their wares, eateries spreading their tables and chairs, or mechanics repairing cars or motorcycles.

When sidewalks are also occupied, often by hawker stalls, pedestrians are forced to walk on the streets meant for motor vehicles, exposing themselves to passing traffic and snatch thieves. But the bigger danger comes from reversing cars, particularly those parked perpendicularly.

Pedestrians must walk closely behind parked cars, lest they get knocked down by a passing vehicle. But then drivers that have been waiting for many cars to pass will reverse out quickly the moment there is a gap in traffic and are unlikely to notice pedestrians walking towards the car from the other direction.

Hence, we should avoid walking in front, behind or at the side of cars, especially when there is a driver in the car with the engine running. But many people throw caution to the wind, especially those walking indifferently on the street meant for vehicles when they should be on the sidewalk built for pedestrians.

Motorists may feel safe when cocooned inside a car. If so, they are vulnerable the moment they step out of their vehicle. Sadly, too many drivers are oblivious to the risk of being carjacked. Those who are naïve or not streetwise could easily fall victim.

Carjackers may be cruising to find a random victim. Once they have identified a suitable target, one or more accomplices would stoop low to give the impression that only the driver is in the car. The victim’s car will be rear-ended and naturally, both drivers will stop and get down to inspect the damage.

If the engine of the victim’s car was left running, one of the accomplices would seize the opportunity to drive the car away. If not, the victim could be robbed by two or more armed men of his or her valuables, including the car key, before the vehicle is scooted away.

So, be wise, do not react naturally or instinctively after a collision, as an accident could be staged. Just stay in the car first to write down the registration number, and if possible, the make, model and colour of the other vehicle, plus the time, location and approximate speed of collision.

The same applies to “hit and run” accidents. There is no need to chase after the vehicle that has crashed into yours especially when the driver has decided to flee. A high-speed chase would put yourself and other road users in grave danger.

Even if you could successfully force the other vehicle to a stop, the confrontation between you and the driver is likely to turn violent at this stage. It would be a tragedy if a steering lock or baseball bat ended up as a murder weapon over a relatively minor collision.

Although the law requires motorists to stop after an accident, it would be wise not to stay put longer than necessary. When an injured pedestrian, motorcyclist or pillion rider is writhing in pain, bystanders could easily turn into an angry mob and assault the driver, regardless of whose fault it was.

If you were the driver and were beaten to a pulp and died from grievous injuries, some bystanders that lost their cool could be charged with murder, causing untold suffering not only to their families but to yours too. So, leave the accident scene even when you were not at fault.

When cars involved in accidents could still be driven, drive them to a safer spot to avoid causing traffic congestion on both sides of the road. Often, a series of collisions would occur after the first accident, sometimes with passing vehicles crashing into people standing or waiting by the roadside.

It would be wise to install dashcams to record traffic ahead, it would be wiser to add rear cameras, not just to record but also to monitor movement, as most vehicles are not equipped for drivers to have a clear view of people or objects behind, other than the rearview and side mirrors.

Fifty-seven years after Ralph Nader wrote the watershed book “Unsafe at Any Speed”, automobiles remained the number one killing machine in the United States. From 2000 to 2017, more Americans died in car crashes than in both World Wars combined.

Elsewhere, including in most developing countries, road accidents kill more people than war and disease every year. The killing fields are not far away but on city streets, trunk roads and open highways. To survive, it takes more than just intelligence and common sense.

In an argument, pointing a camera at someone to record for evidence is highly provocative. The act could easily trigger the offended to retaliate such as punching the camera away and a fight could ensue. Responding instinctively is foolish, and so is trying to reason with those who refused to be reasonable.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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