Home Opinion Road accidents and our misguided expressway policy

Road accidents and our misguided expressway policy

Losing your loved ones in a road accident can be heart-breaking.

In the last week, more than 60 people died in road accidents. This is truly devastating and totally unacceptable.

Are our roads really that bad, or is it our motorists who are at fault?

Let’s look at some facts and figures pertaining to vehicle data, our old road network and expressway development policy.

Vehicle Data

The number of vehicles on Malaysian roads has increased steadily in recent years.

Data from the road transport department (JPJ) indicates that there has been a steady increase in the number of vehicles on our roads – on average about 5% annually.

That means the total number of vehicles registered in Malaysia increased by 60% over the last ten years.

However, there has been no similar trend or corresponding increase in the total road length or road capacity, over the same period.

This shortfall in road building has made our road network appear neglected, devoid of safety features and out of sync with international standards and practices.

We are squeezing more vehicles into the same road space and, as a result, have had to endure more road accidents and suffer more road deaths.

Vehicles-capacity ratio

The number of vehicles to road capacity ratio (better known as VC ratio), determines the relationship between the number of vehicles against actual road capacity.

Our VC ratio has been noted to have steadily risen from 0.1 to 1 (or from 10% to 100 %) in line with the increase shown in our vehicle data.

Many roads and expressways are also known to have recorded VC ratios of one and above, signifying that the road has reached its full capacity (100 %) or is now saturated or, as we commonly say, congested.

More traffic on the same road capacity, would naturally, lead to more conflicts, and therefore, more road accidents and deaths.

Given the traffic volume, these roads no longer present a safe environment.

Notable examples of such roads and expressways include the North-South Expressway and Federal Routes 1 and 2.

North-South Expressway (NSE)

The NSE was built in late 1980s and was expected to reach its two-lane capacity after 20 years or so.

Sections of the NSE between Rawang-Penang and Seremban-JB are still operating with a two-lane configuration, some 38 years after it was first opened.

Although two sections have been expanded to three lane (between Rawang-KL and KL-Senawang), much of its length still bears a two-lane configuration and operates way above its VC ratios.

Accidents along the two-lane sections are very common, regrettably, with many fatalities.

Federal Route 1

Federal Route 1 is the original trunk road that used to form the backbone of the country’s road network from Kangar in the north all the way south to Johor Bharu.

(A branch line from Kuala Lumpur to the East Coast is referred to as Federal Route 2).

A single lane contra-flow road with specs from the 1970s, Federal Route 1 has not seen much improvements, except for certain busy sections close to major towns.

The contra flow design served its purpose when traffic volume was low.

Anyway, most of the original traffic shifted to the parallel North-South toll expressway after the new expressway was first opened in the early 1990s.

However, because of significant increase in traffic volume over the years, both the expressway and the old trunk road are now faced with high VC ratios.

With inferior dimension and standards, coupled with contra flow arrangements, Federal Route 1 is no longer safe.

More traffic along this road means more conflicts, especially at junctions, lane mergers, right turns and old narrow bridges, sections of which have led to many serious accidents and collisions.

Misguided Policy

Since the 1990s, government expenditure on road building programmes has declined rapidly.

A new privatisation policy intended to transfer the burden of building expressways from the government to private sector companies, was set in motion in the mid-1990s.

While this has saved billions in taxpayer funds, the policy has resulted in private sector initiatives which are far from satisfactory.

Firstly, these initiatives have targeted roads in the Klang Valley, but not those in the rest of the country.

Secondly, they have resulted in the development of new townships which have widened the car commuting market.

As a result, the Klang Valley has turned into a massive car-oriented conurbation served by multiple highways: LDP, KESAS, ELITE, LKSA, SPRINT, DUKE, AKLEH, NPE, etc.

Car usage has become increasingly dominant against a single LRT line (public transport infrastructure) confined to a narrow corridor between Kelana Jaya and Ampang.

Ugly Cityscape

The cityscapes of KL, PJ, Subang and Ampang, which used to be reasonable townships, have been blighted by ugly superstructures comprising multiple elevated expressways. Despite this, urban gridlocks have worsened.

Perhaps, this is the paradox of our own one-sided policy. We have created a massive urban sprawl which in turn has given rise to a high rate of road accidents and a host of other road safety issues.

This in turn has spawned a host of social ills and highlighted social disparity. On top of that, it has left us with a city lacking culture and soul.

Road building in the hands of private sector companies is linked to toll collection, high revenues and massive profits.

Obviously, new expressways were proposed to eliminate traffic congestions in areas with high traffic volume.

The Klang Valley and areas surrounding Kuala Lumpur, which should be the focus of a comprehensive public transportation system due to its high population density, have been taken over by privatised expressways instead. Has the government been scammed?

Today, we are witnessing the dominance of expressways, operated by profitable concessionaires advising the government on plans for more toll roads as a means to tackle traffic congestion.

These expressways are built with only a single objective – to collect tolls.

In doing so, we have neither eliminated congestion nor succeeded in reducing road accidents. Instead, we have ended up with more road accidents and more road deaths.

For the sake of making our roads safer, the time has come for a holistic review of our misguided expressway policy.



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