15 December 2016

“It was fate” was the response to the horrific accident that occurred on a Malaysian motorway this week. The driver of a multi-purpose vehicle lost control when a tyre burst and the car rammed into a pillar. Six passengers died and others were seriously injured. Three of those killed were children. They were thrown out of the vehicle on impact.

Although one hesitates to diminish the anguish of the driver and the others who survived the accident, to assign the deaths to fate is not good enough. Vehicles do not need warrants of fitness in Malaysia with the result that there are thousands of non-roadworthy cars in use at any one time. The tyres on that MPV may have been worn or not inflated to the correct pressure. That is the driver’s responsibility.

The wearing of seat-belts and the securing of children in car-seats is not common practice in Malaysia. The children who were thrown out of this particular vehicle may have been saved if they had been in car-seats. None of the newspaper accounts has reported on whether the adults were wearing seat-belts, which may have saved them. It seems the driver was saved by the steering wheel, which inflicted injuries but prevented his being thrown out of the car.

An officer of a government department in Kuala Terengganu where the accident occurred is quoted as saying “It is fate and we accept God’s decision”. I find that an objectionable response but it confirms what I have long thought – that fatalism lies behind the highly risky and largely unregulated driving practices that one sees every day on Malaysian roads. Not only are cars and trucks not required to have regular checks but excessive speeding and the use of mobile phones while driving is endemic. Police checks often involve a RM50 bribe to offset any fine that might be imposed for a defective vehicle or traffic infringement.

It is not fate when an overused tyre bursts. It is not fate when young children die unnecessarily and their lives could have been saved by being secured in car-seats. And as for accepting the preventable deaths of six people as a decision made by God …