In a Daze Over the Haze


THERE have been several reactions to the haze. When it was at full strength in Muar, I happened to be there, having driven there with my wife, to visit our family before next month's Ramadan.


When we returned to Selangor, the haze blew to Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur last Monday. During the hazy week, I was surprised to see that very few people use their fog lights.


Fortunately, very few people mis-used their hazard lights. Which brings us to the point of daytime running lights (DRL). The premium Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars with DRLs stood out visibly in the haze.


There are good aftermarket DRLs made by Philips and I recently fitted them on my expedition Range Rover Classic. These DRLs were passed to me two years ago for testing and it was only this year that I had the opportunity to install and test them during the Land Rover Owners Club Trans-Kalimantan expedition last May and June.


They worked brilliantly and were a lifesaver when a faulty alternator blew out the main beams. The DRLs gave us enough light to drive through some exciting off road conditions on the foothills of Kalimantan Tengah's Schwaner Range. Can you imagine an off road scenario where there are no lights in pitch dark conditions in the heart of Borneo?


More reactions

Some of the over reactions were when the authorities closed the schools. Perhaps it would have been better to have advised that schools remain open (asthmatic and weak teachers exempted) and attendance by students at the discretion of parents.


Rich households have no problem holding kids back. The less well-off may not have the back-up systems to keep vulnerable children, especially young primary students, at home at short notice.


As for the junior Indonesian ministers Jero Wacik and Agung Laksono who shifted the blame of the haze on Malaysian and Singaporean companies, they reminded us of Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s Health Department director.


A medical doctor, the director famously passed the buck to those of us who ate at stalls and other economy places. This official said that people shouldn't patronise dirty stalls and that dirty stalls were our fault.


We would prefer that the councils do their work of keeping the food outlets clean. Their officers should refuse the bribes and enforce the law equally and in a compassionate way so that there is a solution for the hawkers and supplying them bins and a disposal service for a fee.


Don't tell us not to eat at hawker stalls. If we had enough money, we would eat at nice air-conditioned restaurants rather than at the roadside stalls.


If the health director had been gracious enough, like Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who apologised for the haze and promised the full intervention of the state machinery, and followed up with action, that would have been good.


But then, the City Hall mayor is not elected and neither he nor his health director answers for the callous remark that assumes everyone has the means to eat at clean eateries.


Kuching is an illustration of good town planning. The shophouses in commercial areas are required by the town councils to be designed and located in such a way that at a pinch, they become food courts where the stalls are well spaced and there is sufficient area for dishwashing and common toilets.


Why can Kuching and Sarawak do it and those in Peninsular Malaysia are way behind? Probably this is an indication that ministers from Sarawak come from a more competitive society and therefore are more competent. In that case, it might be advantageous to have more elected leaders from Sarawak in Peninsular Malaysia town councils, as well as in Federal government positions.


In any case, flights from KL to Kuching are cheaper because of AirAsia and Malindo and the likelihood is that out of 10 KL/PJ folk who visit Kuching for the first time, eight of them will be pleasantly surprised with a short holiday to Sarawak’s capital.


Road fatalities

While there were two known deaths due to the two-week old haze, there is a far more deadly slaughter going on every day. These are the average 6.7 fatalities from road crashes daily.


That brings us to last Sunday (June 23) that saw the holding of the Lafarge Drivers Safety Day in Serdang. An annual event to celebrate the drivers of their heavy commercial vehicles, this year’s celebration was the ninth.


It was also the first time that the company, a subsidiary of the world’s largest cement manufacturer, had invited the public to its drivers' safety event.


I should know, having attended its previous events cloaked as a driver rather than as a reporter.


Congratulations to Lafarge and its team led by its chief executive officer Bradley Mulroney.


Their drivers, or rather the drivers of their contracted transport companies, drive about three million kilometres per month. Last year, they drove an accumulated 38 million kilometres in Malaysia without a fatality, without a crash injury, and without loss of time due to road crash.


Perhaps the Lafarge team kept their event private so as not to tempt fate, perhaps they didn't want politicians to overshadow the daily triumphs of their drivers. But opening the function to the public has done a greater good for the community and Malaysia.


It educates us that transportation in the cut-and-thrust of the business world need not compromise on safety and productivity.

If Lafarge Malaysia Bhd can compete without resorting to overloading and payment according to the number of trips, then why can't other transporters do it?


Mulroney also had important advice for us. He said that transport policies had to factor in the environment in which business was operating.


While Lafarge has recently implemented the policy to have GPS installed on its trucks, he said that it did not mean that this policy suited all commercial vehicles.


Wish list

In this aspect, we would like to present a wish list to the new Transport Minister and his deputy:


1.  The licence for automatic cars will be introduced in August. Please review the testing procedure for all drivers, manual or automatic transmissions, so that the driving standard is improved. If the driving standards have improved, this is surely not represented by the statistics on crash fatalities and crash injuries, especially in the 18 to 26 age groups.


2.  The government commissioned a report on the Simpang Pulai tour bus crash that killed 24 Thais and two Malaysians. The report has been completed two years ago and has been forgotten or suppressed. There are indications of systematic rigging of the roadworthiness inspection service by individuals both in the private and public sector. The public review of this report and a non-partisan willingness to fix the abuses will certainly improve road safety.


3.  The Ministry should do more to help the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) in the area of enforcement of taxi operators in the Klang Valley. After two years of blatant abuse of passengers and Malaysians and tourists alike and by a few gangs of crooked taxi drivers, it takes four agencies to catch 70 cabbies. 700 days of abuse and one day of enforcement is hardly the way to clean up the taxi syndicates controlling the tourist spots. If SPAD has insufficient manpower and clout, then the new Transport Minister and his deputy should try to help SPAD using some of the ministry's regulations that could be applied.


4.  After consultation with the industry groups and the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), the government should start to implement a ban on pay per trip, starting with sand lorries.


5. The Ministry should also study the rampant overloading of 1-2-4-axle articulated rigs carrying sand from Perak to KL/PJ/Shah Alam. Why not modernise the law to take cognisance of modern and more powerful equipment. This will translate to productivity without compromising the safety of other road users and without damaging our beautiful highways and roads.