Are we taking cyclist road safety seriously?

JULY 10 —  A couple of weekends ago, I saw someone die. His lifeless body was sprawled at the side of the road. His bloodied helmet lay nearby not far from his bicycle. When he left home that day, who could have predicted that he would lose his life? On a road that barely had any cars on a Sunday morning. A victim of a tragic hit and run incident.

As far as I know, there are no known statistics currently collected to monitor the incidences of deaths in accidents involving bicycles. However, what can be certain is that man on that morning was obviously not the first and unfortunately will not be the last person to lose their lives while cycling on Malaysian roads.

As the popularity of cycling continues its upward movement in this country, there is an increasing need to improve on both biker safety education, road safety as well as encouraging consideration of drivers to share the road with cyclists.

People using bicycles to go to work, to the mall and other places are a common sight in many cities in Europe but is still a rarity in the urban Malaysian landscape.

One reason is because it can be extremely dangerous and even a near death experience cycling on Malaysian roads. Coupled with the sea of cars and lorries, drivers imagining themselves in a Fast and Furious movie, people checking their messages or make-up while driving, and the often haphazard and daredevil manner of many a motorcyclist, cyclists find themselves gambling with their lives when they take their bicycles out to work, exercise or travel.

It wasn’t too long ago that national cyclist Rafizi Hamdan was killed in Ampang due to a car collision, junior cyclist Mohd Shafiq Imran Syahril lost his life when a trailer ran over him in Kuala Terengganu and triathlete Kimbeley Yap was seriously injured in 2014.

Earlier in 2012, four national cyclists, Mariana Mohamad, Masziyaton Mohd Radzi, Mohd Azri Ahmad and Mohd Aziz Zahit were injured during a selection race in Putrajaya when a car swerved into them.

Wearing a helmet and being alert while cycling means nothing when the other guy driving a car maintains a careless, reckless and uncaring attitude regarding the collective safety of other road users.

Some have even adopted the attitude of demanding to know why they should give a damn when they suffer through road tax each year while cyclists don’t have to pay a sen.

The marginalising of bicycles to the road shoulder by other road users such as cars, lorries and even motorcycles is often cause for concern. There are potholes, uneven road surfaces and drain outlets which cause accidents to happen.

I have had a few close calls in the past and have only been able to escape serious injury by being extra alert and through sheer dumb luck.

We don’t need new laws to prevent casualties and deaths. We need common sense (which is often in short supply) and an increase in civic consciousness (thankfully, slowly on the increase).

Kuala Lumpur should take a leaf out of the book of its European counterparts and encourage the growth of a bicycle-friendly culture. It should do more than just convert a former motorcycle lane into a bicycle lane.

Let’s face it, there are just too many cars and too many people who will insist on driving the shortest of distances to the neighbourhood kedai runcit or kedai mamak. There will never be sufficient roads to accommodate our ongoing addiction to cars.

Until the day the city introduces a levy or tax on cars entering the main parts of the city a la Singapore, and to have enough political will and guts to implement it, Kuala Lumpur will soon be competing with Jakarta for the prize of the most congested city in the region.

Besides addressing the traffic congestion problem, we could also start dealing with the reality that 60 per cent of adult Malaysians are overweight or obese. By encouraging people to cycle, we can deal with these problems at one go. Want to get rid of that beer belly or those “spare tyres”? Naik basikal lah.

Whether you are riding an unmemorable bicycle brand or a souped-up Bianchi with all the bells and whistles, cycling should be actively encouraged. Yes, yes I know that it's bloody hot and humid out there. It can also be inconvenient when going to work that way when there are no shower facilities on hand. But these are excuses and there are solutions to them.

Speaking as someone who has cycled to work and to the mall, I can tell you that making it a culture can be done.

However, arriving sweaty and hot to work are small potatoes compared to the issue of biker road safety. The latter has an urgency to it which must be taken seriously by both the authorities and motorists.

Let the death of the cyclist on the shoulder of a PJ road not be in vain.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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