Malaysia's drink driving problem: How big is it? What the numbers actually say

For the eight-year period from 2011 to 2018, a total of 1,147 people lost their lives in drink driving accidents in Malaysia. — Picture via Unsplash
For the eight-year period from 2011 to 2018, a total of 1,147 people lost their lives in drink driving accidents in Malaysia. — Picture via Unsplash

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 11 — Drink driving has recently become a hot topic again in Malaysia, following a spate of fatal road accidents involving drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated with alcohol.

Even as the Malaysian government has pledged to introduce new laws with harsher punishments, the issue has quickly snowballed into calls from PAS for action ranging from proposals for fewer premises allowed to sell alcohol to suspension of sales and even the eventual shutting down of the alcohol industry in Malaysia.

But what do we actually know of drink driving in Malaysia? How big is this problem? How many individuals in the country die each year from accidents caused by drink driving?

Here's a quick look by Malay Mail at all the facts and figures on drink driving in Malaysia, based on news reports and  limited data available:

1. How many deaths did drink driving accidents cause in recent years?

From the Transport Ministry’s November 13, 2018 written Parliamentary reply to Tumpat MP Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi, police figures showed that the number of persons who died due to drink driving accidents were 49 (2010), 33 (2011), before going up markedly to 136 (2012) and continuing on a general upward trend of 207 (2013), 193 (2014), 229 (2015) and 237 (2016).

Since the peak of 237 deaths in 2016, the number has fallen to 58 in 2017 and 54 in 2018, according to a Transport Ministry presentation carried on the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (UNESCAP) website.

For the eight-year period from 2011 to 2018, a total of 1,147 people lost their lives in drink driving accidents in Malaysia, based on these figures. 

 

 

From the same Transport Ministry data, drink driving accidents were also shown to have resulted in 539 individuals being seriously injured from 2011 to 2018, and 595 suffering minor injuries during the same eight-year period. (The figures for 2010 were omitted in Malay Mail’s tally due to possible discrepancies in the figures provided by the Transport Ministry.)

In other words, around 2,281 individuals were affected by drink driving accidents in Malaysia from 2011 to 2018, with about half of them dying and about half of them either suffering serious or minor injuries.

 

 

2. It's part of a bigger problem

Transport accidents are actually a top killer of Malaysians in Malaysia, where roughly around one million more vehicles have been added every year since 2006.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia’s (DOSM) latest data released in October 2019, a total of 168,168 deaths were recorded in Malaysia in 2017 and 172,031 deaths in 2018.

When looking at just the medically-certified deaths, DOSM’s figures show that transport accidents are the fourth biggest cause of such deaths, at 4,499 or 4.6 per cent of the 97,440 deaths in 2017, and at 4,391 or 3.7 per cent of the 117,387 deaths in 2018. (The top three causes for these two years were ischaemic heart diseases, pneumonia, cerebrovascular diseases, while the fifth biggest cause is chronic lower respiratory diseases.)

Based on the police’s official statistics for the annual number of deaths caused by road accidents for the period 2003 to 2019, the annual figures have generally hovered above 6,200 deaths, except for a peak in 2016 at 7,152 deaths.

The number of deaths recorded every year as a result of road accidents in Malaysia has since decreased from the 2016 peak to 6,740 deaths in 2017, 6,284 (2018) and 6,167 (2019).

 

 

Based on figures compiled by the Road Safety Department of Malaysia, the general downward trend of fatal road accidents in the past few years match the general decline in the annual death index from road accidents since 2011. 

In other words, the fatality rate has steadily gone down every year except for a marginal increase in 2016, with the figure down from 3.21 deaths per every 10,000 vehicles in 2011 to 1.97 deaths per every 10,000 vehicles on the road in 2019.

This takes place against a backdrop of the number of registered vehicles in Malaysia going up from 21.4 million (2011) to 31.2 million (2019) while the country’s population grew from 29 million to more than 32 million during the same period.

At the same time, the Home Ministry’s statistics show the number of road accidents has been growing steadily during the same period, from 449,040 accidents in 2011 to 567,516 in 2019, but fewer involved injuries or deaths, which ties in with the declining death rate from road accidents (20,662 in 2011 declining to 13,396 in 2019).

3. More than one thing to blame

It is clear that transport accidents in general is a top cause of medically-certified deaths in Malaysia annually, and that police statistics show more than 6,000 persons dying every year from road accidents.

But when it comes to drink driving specifically, it is not identified as a top cause of fatal road accidents, based on official data published on the Malaysian government’s open data portal data.gov.my.

In fact, police statistics show that the top five causes for fatal road accidents during the 2016-2018 period are: vehicles that crashed on their own (6,056 fatal road accidents), eating into other lanes but not while overtaking two or more than two vehicles (1,958), not seeing or noticing animals, objects or other vehicles in front or beside the vehicle in the same direction (1,950), attempts to overtake or switch lanes (1,931), and being careless when entering or exiting slip road junctions (1,926).

The top sixth to tenth cause during the same period are staying close to another vehicle (1,025), U-turns, turning back the vehicle or crossings (769), going against the traffic flow (708), not following traffic lights (535), or pedestrians being careless while crossing the road (520).

As for the category of “drunk/drugs”, it is actually the last of the 17 categories listed, accounting for just 20 of the 18,705 fatal road accidents recorded during the 2016-2018 period. 

This places the category of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs below other categories during the 2016-2018 period, such as for racing/zig zag (22), others (112), sudden stopping of vehicles (158), unknown causes (232), being careless while reversing (382), and daydreaming/tired/sleepy (401).

 

 

It’s unclear why the police’s statistics of fatal road accidents directly attributed to being drunk or under the influence of drugs are substantially lower than the Transport Ministry’s statistics of the number of deaths caused by drink driving accidents, or whether this could be due to how the data was classified or compiled.

But even if the Transport Ministry’s figures are used for calculations, it would show that deaths from drink driving accidents account for a very small portion of deaths in road accidents as a whole during the 2011 to 2018 period.

For example, the peak during this period of 237 deaths from drink driving accidents would amount to only around 3.3 per cent of 7,152 deaths from road accidents in 2016, while 136 drink driving accident-caused deaths amount to 1.97 per cent of 6,917 road accident deaths in 2012. 

Also as an example, the 54 deaths from drink driving accidents in 2018 amount to 0.86 per cent of the 6,284 road accident deaths that year.

4. What about the number of arrests?

But that's not to say that the number of drink driving incidents is a negligible problem, as the Malaysian police through continued enforcement and screening via its traffic operations particularly under “Ops Mabuk” managed to detect a sizeable number of road users with alcohol levels in their body beyond the limits allowed under the law.

According to local daily Sinar Harian’s report earlier this month, Bukit Aman’s Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director Datuk Azisman Alias said that a total of 3,992 motorists were arrested for drink driving during the 2018 to May 2020 period, with the breakdown being 1,589 in 2018, 1,581 (2019), 822 (January-May 2020).

Based on Sinar Harian and Berita Harian reports, Azisman also said a total of 70 drink driving accidents were recorded in the 2018 to May 2020 period.

When broken down, this would be 25 drink driving accidents in 2018 (comprising 11 deaths, 14 involving injuries); 23 drink driving accidents in 2019 (nine deaths, 14 injuries); 22 drink driving accidents in just the first five months of 2020 or almost the same as the entire 12 months last year (nine deaths, 13 injuries for January-May 2020).

 

 

5. What has been done so far? Where do we go from here?

Aside from police enforcement, written parliamentary replies in 2017 and 2018 show the government’s regulatory efforts on the alcohol industry in general, such as banning the sale of alcohol of those aged below 21 (which is also the new legal drinking age up from age 18 previously), requiring alcohol to be displayed separately from other food items in stores, and requiring health warning labels on alcohol packaging and display racks. 

Both the Transport Ministry and the prime minister have recently said the laws regarding drink driving would be amended to impose heavier penalties, while the minister in charge of law Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan spoke of various measures to be taken including proposals to have fatal drink driving cases also prosecuted under the Penal Code under offences such as intentionally causing of death.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has also decided to freeze all new applications for licences to sell alcohol, following Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa’s remark on the same matter. 


 

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