In an effort to reduce accident and fatality rates on Malaysia’s roads, the government is working to implement a series of new safety standards. The new policies, the majority of which are based on international safety standards developed by the UN and other regional and international entities, are expected to have a major positive impact on the road segment. Traffic accidents account for around 1.3m deaths globally on an annual basis, or around 3500 per day, making them one of the leading causes of death around the world. In addition to the obvious human cost, these fatalities come at a high economic cost – around $100bn in developing countries, where more than 90% of traffic fatalities occur, according to recent estimates by the UN. In an effort to address this issue, in March 2010 Malaysia, along with around 100 other nations, adopted a UN draft resolution that declares 2011-20 a Decade of Action for Road Safety (DARS). The resolution, which was developed by the UN and the WHO, aims “to prevent 5m road traffic deaths globally by 2020”.

DRIVING FORWARD: Achieving the targets laid out in the DARS programme will require the government to overcome a number of major challenges. Malaysia has seen steadily rising road accident rates over the past decade, with total accidents reaching 414,421 in 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), according to the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS), a research entity launched in 2007 by the Ministry of Transport (MoT).

According to WHO statistics from 2007, when the most recent comprehensive study was carried out, Malaysia had the highest road fatality rate of all ASEAN countries, at just under 24 fatalities per 100,000 population, compared to approximately 20 per 100,000 in the Philippines, roughly 19 per 100,000 in Thailand and around 17 per 100,000 in Indonesia.

Despite these numbers, the government’s ambitious development plans for lowering accident rates on Malaysian roads bode well for the future. The creation of MIROS in 2007 represented a major step forward in terms of addressing traffic-related injuries and fatalities, for example. From its founding through 2010 the organisation managed the 2006-10 Malaysia Road Safety Plan (MRSP) and carried out a comprehensive survey of road safety in the country. It has since taken on a leading role in local implementation of DARS.

In particular, MIROS has focused on improving safety standards among motorcycle drivers, who are especially prone to accidents, injuries and fatalities. In 2009, according to MIROS data, the ratio of motorcycle fatalities to other road-related fatalities in the country was 1.52:1. Between 2007 and 2012 MIROS legally adopted 54 of the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) vehicle safety regulations, which are viewed as the global standard for traffic safety regulations. In March 2012 the institution announced that it would adopt 16 to 19 more UNECE vehicle safety regulations before the end of 2012. With this in mind, Malaysia’s roads are expected to be much safer by 2020 .

SAFER COMMUTES: The number of vehicles on the road in Malaysia has grown substantially in recent years, primarily as a result of the rapidly expanding population and rising incomes across the board. In 2010 more than 20m vehicles were registered in the nation, up from around 19m in 2009 and less than 18m in 2008. Incidentally, the number of vehicles per person has actually contracted considerably over the past few decades, from three in 1995 to just 1.4 in 2010. This is primarily the result of a steadily increasing percentage of the population moving into urban areas, where cars are both more expensive and less necessary – due to the availability of public transportation – than in rural regions.

The number of road accidents in Malaysia has grown alongside the number of automobiles on the road. In 2010, as previously mentioned, there were 414,421 road accidents in Malaysia, up from 397,330 in 2009, 373,071 in 2008 and 363,319 in 2007. Some 760,433 vehicles were involved in road accidents in 2010, up from 705,623 the previous year, 671,078 in 2008 and 668,173 in 2007. Despite the increase in accidents, the government’s 2006-10 MRSP reduced the number of people injured or killed in crashes over the years. In 2004 some 54,091 individuals were injured or killed in accidents on Malaysian roads. Since then, the number has dropped substantially every year, falling to 33,999 in 2007, 32,274 in 2008, 31,417 in 2009 and, finally, 28,269 in 2010. Road fatalities constituted 6872 of the 2010 figure, up slightly from 6745 in 2009, 6527 in 2008 and 6282 in 2007. Taking into account the expanding number of vehicles on the road and total accidents in the four years leading up to 2010, the rise in traffic fatalities over the same period is relatively minor, in light of the much larger increase in vehicles, and is widely thought of as a positive result of the MRSP.

According to MIROS, motorcyclists, passengers and pedestrians are the highest-risk groups, accounting for 90% of fatalities in 2010. Motorcyclists, in particular, are involved in an large percentage of total road accidents. Some 3614 motorcyclists died on Malaysian roads in 2010, which is equal to 52.6% of total fatalities for the year. Additionally, the majority of fatalities (around 30%), serious injuries (39%) and slight injuries (38%) occur among those aged 16 to 25. Of all 16-to-25-year-olds injured or killed in road crashes in 2010, 71.6% were riding motorcycles. Thus, implementing and enforcing safety standards for young motorcycle riders, in particular, is expected to be one of MIROS’s major focuses under the DARS programme.

CURRENTLY EXISTING POLICIES: Under the 2006-10 MRSP the government developed a number of foundational policies and made substantial progress toward increasing road safety in Malaysia. Compared to many other countries around the world, Malaysia boasts a relatively well-developed road safety framework. According to a 2007 WHO study, only 58% of 174 surveyed countries had developed a national strategy to improve road safety, and just 34% could point to specific targets and funding with which they were planning to implement and enforce said strategy. Similarly, only 29% of the countries surveyed had instituted urban speed limits of 50 km per hour or even lower, with the stipulation that local authorities are allowed to lower speed limits further if they choose.

Malaysia performs relatively well on all of these fronts.

The country boasts a suite of road safety laws and regulations at both the national and local level, including legislation that sets speed limits nationally (for instance, a maximum limit of 50 km per hour on urban roads); a drink-driving law that sets a blood-alcohol content limit of 0.08 grams per deciliter (g per dl), which is slightly higher than the WHO-recommended level of 0.05 g per dl; a motorcycle helmet law that applies to all riders, including passengers; and a seat-belt law. Furthermore, cars sold in Malaysia are required to adhere to standards for fuel consumption and seat-belt installation. Finally, the government has invested in a variety of public transport networks in recent years, which has limited the rate of growth in the number of cars on the road and improved safety. Indeed, between 2004 and 2010 the number of individuals injured or killed on Malaysian roads dropped by around 48%.

FUTURE PLANS: The government is currently in the process of developing a new MRSP, which is expected to run through 2020 and adhere to DARS targets. Early draft versions of the new plan list as targets for 2020 six strategic outcomes, including safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users, safer public transport, better post-crash management and improved institutional support for road safety development. The plan is expected to include a number of initiatives aimed specifically at motorcyclists, including efforts meant to increase motorcycle visibility, improve traffic rule compliance among motorcyclists, and provide motorcycle-only lanes and roads, among others.

MIROS has worked to introduce new programmes and initiatives. The organisation is in the process of developing a new policy to ensure vehicle safety, for example. “The Malaysian Vehicle Assessment Programme (MyVAP) is being established to elevate the degree of vehicle safety in Malaysia,” Wong Shaw Voon, the director-general of MIROS, told OBG. “MyVAP will provide conclusive consumer information to local car users.”