Could Malaysian motorists be the worst in the world?

From running red lights, to squeezing in to the front of the queue at a traffic light – known colloquially as ‘pancung’ – to driving against the traffic flow, not yielding to emergency vehicles, to changing lanes abruptly without signalling or checking the rear view and side mirrors, the list of felonies Malaysian motorists are guilty of are as diverse and endless as our motorways.

In an online poll last February, Malaysia placed fifth in the list of the world’s worst drivers. In first place was Thailand. Of course, the list is highly subjective, but the number of road accidents and fatalities in Malaysia are quite sobering and seem to confirm the stats.

In 2022 alone, there were 545,588 road accidents, 6,080 of them fatal. That’s an average of 1,494 accidents per day, or an accident every minute in Malaysia. When it comes to road fatalities, that’s 16.6 deaths per day, or one death every 86 minutes.

Last year, 598,635 road accidents were reported nationwide, from Jan 1 to Dec 30. Of the total, 12,417 were fatal.

Malaysia prides itself on having one of the most comprehensive and stringent driving requirements anywhere in the world. However, this is not reflected in the way we conduct ourselves on the road.

Could it be that the driving syllabus taught in Malaysian driving schools needs an overhaul?

Last December, I rode to Thailand, nine months after getting my B licence. Being a newbie, the more seasoned riders had warned me of the hazards, especially when passing through rural Thai roads. To a large extent, they were right. There were the odd motorcyclists coming out of nowhere from the sides of the road, and you had to be mindful of children darting out into traffic from the shrubs. But on the whole, it was not the complete mayhem that I had thought it would be.

However, once we reached Hatyai and Songkhla, things were markedly different. Despite the online poll’s earlier assertions that Thailand had the world’s worst drivers, there was no bedlam on the congested streets of Hatyai and Songkhla. The masses of cars, bikes, trucks, tuk-tuks and people flowed as one. There was no honking, no tailgating, no mad dashes across the white line at traffic lights, no screeching of tyres, no one-finger salutes, no testosterone-fuelled ‘cucuking’ to compensate for other inadequacies.

It was like a colony of ants moving in unison. After two days of riding, I could pretty much ‘read’ what the guy next, or in front of me was going to do. There were no sudden lane changes, which was refreshing. Every lane change was preceded by a declaration of intent to change vector by signalling, followed by a scan of the rear and side mirrors, ‘one potato, two potato, three potato…’ count to ensure the coast was clear, and finally, the actual manoeuvre to switch lanes.

At traffic lights, a Buddhist calm would envelop everyone. The second the light turned green, there was no honking from the cars behind us. Three to four seconds would elapse, while motorcyclists put their bikes in gear, adjusted their helmets, side mirrors, and tudung (we were in the predominantly Muslim south). Once the first bikes moved, the rest followed in harmony.

Not so in Malaysia. The honking began just 20 minutes after we crossed the border, on our return home. A driver in a black Toyota Vellfire hit the tooter one second after the light turned green at the first traffic light in Changlun, Kedah, and blasted clear off when the highway opened up in front of him. So much for Malaysian hospitality.

Our ride to Thailand almost ended up in disaster when a man driving a Ford Raptor, obviously compensating for some God-given inadequacy, drove like a complete and utter loon, tailgating us, when we were already in the slow lane. He grew increasingly impatient and got increasingly closer. Approaching a layby on the North-South Highway, he peeled off to the left, took the slip road and blasted on ahead of the traffic to beat the queue, where he ended up in gridlock.

Having sat through the motorcycling course in March of last year, I think that our courses are inadequate to handle the challenges of modern motoring. There was no emphasis on defensive driving or riding, on situational awareness. I am fortunate to a certain extent, as I have more than 30 years of driving experience that I can fall back on. Imagine handing the keys to a motorcycle to a snot-nosed kid and expecting him or her to operate the vehicle safely. That would be like sending a toddler to the wolves.

Over the years, I have made some personal observations about Malaysian drivers. For obvious reasons, I give Perodua MyVi drivers a wide berth. Locally, they are known as ‘King’, or sometimes, by their less flattering sobriquet of ‘Vavi’. The same for pickup trucks who always seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Those with the ‘P’ prefix on their number plates are equally bad news.

Finally, if you’re planning on not using your indicator lights and side and rear view mirrors before switching lanes, you might want to check your dealership to see if you can get rebates if you tick these items off your options list. The car might end up being cheaper. Happy motoring.

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