Ops Sikap Degenerating Into “Oops! Silap!

by M. Bakri Musa

It is now a practice that with every festive season the authorities would go into high gear aimed at reducing the horrifically high rates of traffic accidents and fatalities. Judging by the results however, these initiatives are more show than substance. These “Ops Sikap” (a contraction for Operasi Sikap – Operation Attitude, as in changing the attitude of road users) are now more “Oops! Silap!” (Oops! I goofed!)

There has been no change to the dreadful trend since the series was stated over eight years ago. That should not surprise anyone. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect to have different results. The surprise is that the authorities have not yet figured this out; this latest Ops Sikap essentially replicated what was done during previous twenty operations. There is minimal effort at learning from earlier experiences; the program lacks innovations.

This latest edition began on September 13 and just ended two weeks later today. It registered 238 fatalities. As with past years, the overwhelming victims were motorcyclists.

The Ops Sikap I over Christmas Holidays of 2001 saw 223 deaths, averaging about 15 per day. At the midpoint mark, Ops Sikap X covering the Chinese New Year Holidays of 2006, there were 226 deaths. Again, the average was about 15 deaths per day. With this latest Ops Sikap XX over the current Hari Raya season, the average is already 17 per day. That figure may yet climb as we expect deaths from those currently hospitalized for their injuries.

There you have it: three different festivities but same tragic consequences!

No matter how we look at the figures, there is no denying that they tell a grim story, and with no relief in sight. Yet that did not stop the Director-General of the Road Transport Department (RTD), Solah Mat Hassan, from reassuring the public that based on per 10,000 vehicles registered, the accident rate has actually declined!

The Director-General is obviously misreading the statistics. He is basing his conclusion on the annual and overall number of accidents and fatalities, not on the atrociously high spikes during the holiday seasons. To get a clearer picture of the impact of the heavy traffic of the holidays, he should be looking at the comparable two-week period immediately preceding and following the Ops Sikap. Unfortunately neither his department nor the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (MIROS) collects or publishes such figures.

In America, heightened traffic surveillance over holiday periods extends only over a three-day period, as Americans do not have the luxury of extended holidays. Nonetheless the figures are illustrative. Take the typical three-day American Labor Day weekend. From 2003 to 2008, the fatalities nationally ranged from 473 to 508, with an average of 490. The fatalities over that three-day period represent about 13 percent of the month’s total, only slightly over the 10 percent that would be expected based simply on the prorated number of days (3 days out of 30). That represents a percentage increase of only 30 percent (from 10 to 13 percent).

The statistics look even more impressive if we look at the number of deaths in the comparable three-day period immediately before and after the holidays: they average about 423 over the six-year period. Meaning, the long holiday weekend saw the accident numbers spiked from an average of 423 to 490, an increase of only 15 percent. That is remarkably low increase considering the visibly much heavier traffic volume during the holidays.

To me, that is the more meaningful figure on which to gauge the effectiveness of the measures instituted during the festive season. Although RTD and MIROS do not collect these comparable data, nonetheless we can get a rough estimate from newspaper reports. My guess is that the figures of the comparable two-week periods before and after the Ops Sikap are considerably lower, more likely in the region of about 50, or about 3 a day. Thus the increase during the holiday season is a horrific jump from 3 per day to 15, a five-fold (500 percent) increase, in contrast to the 15 percent we see in America.

That figure that should shock everyone and push us even harder at reducing it.

There are three variables to traffic safety: the road users (drivers, pedestrians, and motorcyclists), the road, and the vehicle. MIROS listed the four E’s to better road safety: education, engineering, enforcement, and the environment. Certainly, attention to these factors would enhance overall road safety and reduce accident rates. These measures have been successfully introduced elsewhere; they are well tested and highly effective. We need not reinvent the wheel; just follow the best practices set elsewhere and modify them appropriately to suit local conditions and audience.

Take education for example. All too often public service announcements and billboards carry and repeat the same annoying message that has the effect of turning people off. “Be careful!” “Be considerate!” “Be patient!” “Use your seat belt!” I have yet to see a public service announcement that would educate drivers on what is the safe space to keep between your car and the one immediately ahead of you if you are going at 40 MPH as compared to 60 MPH. That is one example. Another would be to educate drivers on entering merging traffic and in avoiding distractions, as in using hand phones. In California it is illegal to use hand phone while driving.

Also along the line of education, in view of the disproportionate number of accidents that are alcohol related, in addition to frequent sobriety roadside checks, many judges now sentence drunk drivers to spend time visiting the morgue to see the mangled bodies caused by drunk driving. Along the same line, a night in jail is now mandatory for drunk drivers.

We have however, to differentiate between those measures that would reduce the overall accident rates (as with attention to the four E’s) versus those that are specific to days of especially high volume traffic, as during festive seasons.

Consider enforcement. On any holiday weekend, an hour’s drive on an American freeway and you are likely to meet at least three police patrol cars. Such high visibility of law enforcement personnel keeps drivers on their toes. On one particularly heavy holiday period, the highway patrol resorted literally to having convoys on the freeway, with a police car with all lights flashing leading the way. That kept everyone in line; nobody dared to speed up or overtake.

A few years ago the Malaysian police instituted a novel experiment of actually having a policeman (or woman) ride on express buses. That was highly effective. Today all lorries and express buses are mandated to have speed monitors, thus obviating the need for an on-board human monitors.

Roadside sobriety checks are now a common feature on American roads and streets during high traffic days, as with holidays and special events. It seems that if you have been “stopped checked” or seen someone subjected to it when you are driving, that has a salutary effect that seems to last. You tend to be more cautious for the rest of the trip, and perhaps beyond.

I suggest that at the next Ops Sikap, the authorities introduce some innovations. One would be to have highway convoys and another, random police checks at toll booths. I would also urge the collection of better statistics so we could draw meaningful conclusions and thus devise better strategies and interventions to ameliorate the situation. Again we need not reinvent the wheel. There are already many models in place, the one used by the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov) is one.

The tragedy to the lives lost and bodies maimed in these accidents is that the victims are almost always previously healthy and productive citizens, often in the prime of their life. The nation cannot afford such losses. While to the bureaucrats and statistic keepers Ops Sikap may be Oops! Silap!, to the families of the victims, they are needless tragedies and the beginning of their nightmares.

  1. #1 by taiking on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 9:13 am

    Slightly off topic but still related and so view may be relevant. Its about Mat Rempit.

    Ask ourselves what drives the Rempits (I mean those two wheelers on roads and not those bullys in parliament)? Concentrate on their psychology. To my mind it must begin as a form of cheap thrill or excitement for the little ones. And later on the rempits would see the whole thing as dangerous and danger is fun. That is the whole idea with the current generation X. And when the authority brand them as irresponsible they saw that as yet another milestone to their level of fun and another level personal satisfaction; i.e. to be dangerous and irresponsible.

    The point is they want to be seen and recognised as bad for that is what that drives their adrenalin up. So for them, badder is better. The public must not feed their desire to be bad. And the authorities too must not feed their desire to be bad. Calling them all sorts of bad names wont work for that would only make them feel great and truly satisfied. Law enforcement is necessary to keep them off the street but at the same time it would also harden the rempits’ attitude. Imagine a seasoned rempit relating to budding rempits his life story as a rempit. Accidents. Scars and injuries. Racing with the police. Evading arrests. Beatened up in police detention. Charged in court. Serving jail sentence. Wow! Wot hero!

    Rempit huh. Bad. Dangerous. Irresponsible. Reckless. Hell drivers. Lawless. “Yeah Yeah Keep them coming”: I could almost hear them rempits yelling in ecstacy. Move away from those words. Use some other words to describe them and their acts and behaviour. Call a spade a spade. Just call them bodoh. Yes Mat Bodoh. No one wants to be a seen as bodoh including those who are incorrigibly bodoh.

    I am not saying mat rempits are bodoh. I am only suggesting a psychological way to counter their attitude. This same label can also be used generally to described those who drive recklessly. So instead of displaying reminders like “Berhati-hati di Jalanraya” put up words like “Jangan Jadi Mat Bodoh”.

    Will this work? Views pls.

  2. #2 by HJ Angus on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 11:05 am

    To me the fundamental reason we have such bad driving habits is the abject lack of consistent and continuous law enforcement.
    I was driving back on the Sunday of the Hari Raya weekend and there were so many cars using the emergency lane to overtake on the left.
    Also many motorists do not know how to switch back into the slow lane after they have overtaken slower vehicles.
    Just go to any busy town area and one can find motorists who double park on both sides of the road.
    In Johor Bahru, there are 2 black spots – Tebrau market area and near the Store in Taman Sentosa where people double-park and go for dinner.

  3. #3 by Godfather on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 11:33 am

    Ops Sikap is just a statistical operation. Gather statistics and report to the mainstream press. KPI fulfilled.

  4. #4 by OrangRojak on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 11:45 am

    HJ Angus is right – you can’t choose when to enforce the law. Having a ‘special period’ when you’re going to try extra hard to enforce the law is so abjectly incompetent it defies description.

    Taiking – to you have ‘public information broadcasting’ here? I don’t mean the NST saying “everything is great and he is so manly” kind of stuff. It took me ages to find this – one of my favourites from when I was a kid. I hated the bit with the hammer and the peach:


  5. #5 by Taxidriver on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 11:47 am

    Either the police are not serious in wanting to change the attitude of our Malaysian motorists or they do not know how to go about their work. Almost daily we get to see motorists/motorcyclists breakinng traffic rules like speeding and double-line over-taking, over-taking on the left side of the road, motorcyclists carrying 3 or four persons ( couple with children ) without putting on helmets, and the list goes on and on…….. all those offences committed within sight of police in petrol cars, yet the police couldn’t be bothered. Seems like they are more interested in stopping lorries and vans and foreigners who work here.

    Admittedly, it is never easy to change the attitude of our Malaysian drivers and motorcyclists given the ‘freedom’ they enjoyed over the many years.

    For OP SIKAP to be effective, PDRM must carry out seriously and deligently their work until results can be seen; please, not only the few times during festive seasons. Have more road courtesy campaigns aired over radios and TVs. Nab the young Minahs riding motorbikes without licence and helmets. Don’t stop them with the intention to chit-chat ( getting some cheap thrills? ).

  6. #6 by OrangRojak on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 12:12 pm

    I’m not sure it’s in the (current) government’s best interest to enforce the law diligently and efficiently. Breaking the law with gay abandon is one of the things that makes Malaysia bearable, sustains some of its most profitable industries and maintains the pecking-order.

    Like sharing an apartment with someone who has a poorly trained dog that defecates everywhere, we can dream of a clean and orderly environment to live in, but there’s almost no point in getting the disinfectant out until the room-mate has gone.

    It’ll be a huge job for a future government. Declaring the commencement of a programme of more rigorous law enforcement will look like a slap in the face to many Malaysians – if there’s the slightest hint that the government hasn’t cleaned up its own act first, or is at least willing to have its own transgressions dealt with.

  7. #7 by Loh on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 6:47 pm

    ///This latest edition began on September 13 and just ended two weeks later today. It registered 238 fatalities. As with past years, the overwhelming victims were motorcyclists.///–Bakri Musa

    ///Take the typical three-day American Labor Day weekend. From 2003 to 2008, the fatalities nationally ranged from 473 to 508, with an average of 490./// –Bakri Musa

    Quite obviously the comparison would only be meaningful if the numbers relate to the same type of travellers, people travelled on motorcycles or four-wheel vehicles.

    It is dangerous for motorists to travel at high speed; 100 kph for a motorcycle could be as unstable as car going at 140 kph, and one could imagine how difficult for motorcycle to apply emergency brake at that speed, and to maintain the vehicle upright. When cars and motorcycles share the same highways at top speed, any slight errors by motorists could cost their life. No regulations and no amount of check on the speed or behaviour of motorists would help to reduce the death rates on roads, if motorists choose to travel long distance on highways.

    To reduce road deaths by motorists, the answer lies in improved public transport system. It is not only from city to kampong, but also public transport in local areas.

    The more operations the government set up, the more opportunity it is for the enforcement unit to divert their people for their real task of policing, to maintain security for the ordinary people.

    The government consider 1Malaysia F1 at one billion ringgit a year more important than the development of public transport, which was the reason the previous government cited to up the petrol price. BN government muda lupa.

  8. #8 by Winston on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 7:05 pm

    Remember? We even have one guy to specifically take care of road safety.
    What happened?

  9. #9 by Taxidriver on Monday, 28 September 2009 - 11:17 pm

    Remember? We even have one guy to specifically take care of road safty. What happened? – Winston

    He where got time. Now fighting for his own survival. Dunno tomorrow live or die.

  10. #10 by my oumrie on Tuesday, 29 September 2009 - 1:49 pm

    Ops sikap is nothing more than earning extra “duit raya”. But then, the public are at fault too. Countless of times the public simply break the law, mainly because there’s no police around. We must develop a culture of “busybodyness” like the British. They never fail to “tell” on the offender, so people are more careful not to break the law, whether the police are present or not. Hei Mei…?

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