When I obtained my driver's licence in 1974, the first thing my father did was to remind me to stay clear of motorcyclists on the road. Indeed, I feared knocking into any of them because as he would say, "You know, he could be the sole breadwinner of his family" or something to that dramatic effect.
I often held his advice close to my heart. Images of an injured motorcyclist sprawled on the road and his weeping family looking woefully at me would play in my mind. But heck, what did I know? I was just 17.
Then I, of course, wisened up. Over the years, I grew to be a bit hardened and a little less merciful to motorcyclists on the road. Steadily, most of them did not appear to be road users who deserved my undivided compassion.
Fast forward to 2012 and I still make sure I stay clear of motorcyclists. But that little reminder my father gave me has been somewhat obscured by the harsh reality on the road over the years.
Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam earlier this week disclosed that of the 59,897 accidents reported last year to the Social Security Organisation (Socso), 24,809 were people commuting to work daily, of whom most were motorcyclists.
These statistics represent only those reported to Socso which means that the figure could be higher because there are other victims outside Socso's radar. Besides, we all know there are many motorcyclists who do not have a licence and those who are underage.
The report also found that 53 per cent of the victims were aged 35 and below which Dr Subramaniam lamented meant that Malaysia was "losing workers who were in their prime".
Dr Subramaniam also said that this had prompted the ministry to draw up a safety campaign to raise awareness and to reduce the number of incidents.
Clearly, this is all so worrying. But this is nothing new. Previous studies on accidents showed that motorcyclists formed the largest number of casualties.
I'm not sure what is deficient in enforcement of traffic violations because we get summonses for speeding, parking in non-designated areas, double-parking and other offences -- either from the police or local councils.
Yet every day, and this is no exaggeration, I am confronted with incomprehensible and dangerous traffic violations by motorcyclists. Every day. Beginning in the morning at the first set of traffic lights near my house in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
Either Malaysians, at least Klang Valley denizens, are such a hardy, forgiving, tolerant and laid-back lot that they have accepted the shenanigans of motorcylists with a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy, or they simply go with the flow. Whatever it is, it is not going to help make the situation on the roads better.
We will not see the statistics on accidents easing up. Or have we forgotten that Malaysia has one of the highest numbers of road accidents in the world? Motorcyclists are the victims in accidents, yet most of them get away with murder on the road.
Let me just give a lowdown of the offences they commit everyday -- beating traffic lights, entering no-entry roads, making illegal u-turns in dangerous areas, speeding on any road, having defective tail-lights, not wearing helmets or carrying more than one pillion rider including children (especially in certain housing estates, Wangsa Maju and Setiawangsa come to mind) and the list goes on.
If scores of them have got away happily with these dangerous misdemeanours, then the message is clear to these serial offenders -- that it is okay to break these traffic laws. They don't apply to motorcyclists.
Malaysians shouldn't be blasé about this state of affairs. I know I am not. I honk at these inconsiderate and dangerous road users all the time.
Most of us who have travelled to countries where road users faithfully abide by traffic rules enjoy and appreciate the civility and safety on the road.
Surely among us are policymakers. Yet, we continue to assume a reputation of having some of the most dangerous city and town roads.
Have road safety awareness campaigns helped us in inculcating better habits on the road? Your guess is as good as mine.
I echo the sentiments of road safety advocates that enforcement needs to be stepped up and continually carried out. There should be no compromise.