LAST_UPDATEMon, 25 Jun 2018 11pm

Time To Stop The Blame Game And Ask What Can We Do To Prevent Another Cycling Tragedy

Pic: NSTPic: NST

Cycling is a sport that many Malaysians enjoy, whether seriously or for recreation, but in the past week, it became the talk of town for a different reason.

In the early morning of February 18, eight teen cyclists were killed and several others injured in Johor Bahru after a car rammed into them.

Since then, many parties have shared their opinions on the matter as they argued that the youths should not have been cycling at that hour at all and exposing themselves to danger by riding without safety gear.

As these joyriding activities are not exactly something new, we decided to look at why teens behave that way, what can be done to curb these activities and make it safer for all cyclists in general.

Stopping Them From Going Out Might Not Be The Best Route To Curb Their Activities, Says Psychologist

The teen cyclists and their parents received the brunt of the backlash after the accident where the teens are being blamed for being out and about at odd hours of the night and the parents are being blamed for not monitoring their children’s movement.

But what is the reason for the children being out late at night/early in the morning in the first place?

 Dr Suzana Mohd Hoesni Dr Suzana Mohd Hoesni According to Dr Suzana Mohd Hoesni from The Research Centre for Psychology and Human Well-Being, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, UKM, apparently, it is due to a pleasure principle where they will do anything they believe will make them feel good despite the consequences.

“One psychological aspect is the development of egocentrism, specifically, personal fable, among teenagers.

“This phenomenon will lead teenagers to assume that they will always be OK and nothing bad is going to happen to them although being involved in any high risk activities,” she told Malaysian Digest.

She added that this is also due to biological development where the part of the teenagers’ brains which controls emotions, the amygdala, develop faster than the part of the brain that controls higher order thinking such as decision making, the frontal lobe.

This results in teenagers being unable to make good judgement and therefore guidance from adults is vital.

“During this time, it is vital for parents to ensure that they have built a strong trusting relationship with their teenage children in order to offer guidance,” she said.

But actively stopping them from going out might not be the best route to curb their activities. Instead, a strong relationship between parents and children will make a bigger impact.

“Teenager is a period of transition from being a child to being an adult. It is an adjustment period.

“Although teenagers are physically well developed, they are not completely cognitively and emotionally developed. Thus, all their actions need guidance and advice. Parents place an important role in helping shape teenagers.

“Therefore, it is best that parents build trust and faith by showing their warmth, love and care relationships with their children. Teenagers still need their parents although friends are important in their teenage life journey.

“Parents should always be teenager's best friend, role model and counselor but at the same time giving freedom for their children to build strong and healthy relationships with their peers,” she explained.

With a word of caution, Dr Suzana said that on the other hand, teenagers can turn rebellious when parents have qualities such as being punitive, harsh and cold parents.

The strong relationship between parents and children however do not grow overnight as it needs to be fostered since their children are young.

“Building a warm, trustful and positive relationship with their children should start from when the children are still small.

“Family is the best place to shape the behaviour of the children besides school. Therefore, it is vital for parents to create a happy and conducive environment to help shape positive and healthy behaviour in teenagers,” Dr Suzana advised.

“The Government Has Been Aware About This Issue For 10 Years”

Following the tragic accident, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said that strict enforcement needs to be put in place to prevent a similar accident from happening again.

The Home Ministry (KDN) on the other hand wants state governments to ban underaged youths from loitering around city areas, roads and certain locations late at night.

Its Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said that the proposed ban was necessary to prevent untoward accidents and to help the police who has limited power in supervising underaged children as well as limited manpower.

"Through the proposal to the state governments, I am not asking that underaged children be put under curfew, but they should not be allowed to wander around in the city and certain locations, specifically roads, because there are many threats, including crimes,” Nur Jazlan was reported as saying.

Dave AvranDave AvranDave Avran, founder of Malaysians Against Rape, Assault & snatcH theft (MARAH), agrees with the proposed measures as the accident was unfortunately bound to happen as the activities have been going on for 10 years.

“The issue of night cycling involving children and teenagers is not new and has been raised on numerous occasions from 10 years ago, but no solutions have been worked out. The various authorities, including PDRM have tried to curb the activity.

“Just this year alone, Johor police conducted five operations on similar cycling groups which ride at night. They have seized 17 bicycles and that is aside from the 28 operations and 37 bicycles from last year but the cyclists will always flee when approach during the operation, especially during weekends,” Dave said.

He added that they do not only endanger themselves by being out at night at those hours but they are also cycling without regard for other road users.

Their risky behaviour that courts danger for both cyclist and motorist like cycling against the traffic flow as well as using heavily modifying their bicycles with many removing their brakes to reduce weight, for example, and turning it into a ‘basikal nyamuk’

“The government has been aware about this issue for 10 years, and they’ve tried to accommodate these cyclists.

“The Johor state government has provided suitable places for recreational activities such as bicycle lanes in Bandar Dato’ Onn as well as the forest in Bandar Mutiara Tini, among other places. However the kids are more interested in the illegal thrill of night racing.

“Therefore a lot more needs to be done than just confiscate a few bicycles. How did they allow it to continue for so long without addressing the root cause?” Dave questioned.

He also did not put the blame solely on the parents or the teens because while parents are arguably the most influential people in a child’s life, the kids will eventually get influenced from others as they grow up.

“At the end of the day, we can say that the driver car could have been more careful and the government could have taken action a lot earlier.

“The teens should have listened to advice given to them, and their parents could have been more involved in what their kids were doing. They were out unsupervised at 3am for heaven’s sake.

“​B​ut doesn’t all the above indicate that everyone has a part to play in ensuring that this never happens again?” he expressed.

Considering that this issue has been around for 10 years, any one party could have done something in between those years before it culminated in last weekend’s unfortunate loss of young lives.

Howver, he expressed his hope that in the aftermath of this dreadful tragedy, all relevant parties will be able to work together to find a solution to this problem.

Prioritise Safety When Cycling, Educate Other Road-Users Towards More Bicycle-Friendly Cities

An important issue that is raised following the incident is the safety factor of the cyclists.

Local cycling hero, Azizulhasni Awang reminded youngsters and fellow cyclists to always prioritise safety when cycling.

“To my young friends and fellow cyclists, I want to remind everyone to prioritise your safety and make sure that you turn on your lights and wear bright clothing so that you would be visible especially at night.

“I would also like to appeal to car, bus, lorry and other drivers to pay more attention to cyclists, motorcycles and pedestrian who are more exposed to the risk of road accidents,” Azizulhasni wrote in a post after he heard about the accident.

Datuk Khairul Anwar SallehDatuk Khairul Anwar SallehWe also reached out to an avid cyclist, Datuk Khairul Anwar Salleh from ASTRO to share his views on the safety aspects that cyclists need to be aware of when on the road and what can be done to make it safer for the cyclists.

When talking about the modifications that the teen cyclists did to the bicycles, Datuk Khairul says there are positive and negative aspects. On the one hand it encourages innovation and understanding more about the bicycle but the downside is they might ignore the safety aspect when they do the modification.

“When kids do something to the bicycle, it encourages innovation and encourages them to learn more about the bike.

“But it is more important for them to be aware of the safety elements that they are tempering with such as the gear and breaking system,” he said.

Advocating that safety awareness is the way to go in ensuring the safety of cyclists, Datuk Khairul said that it should be extended to other motorists as well and not just cyclists.

“I’m not saying that you should stop cycling but you need to be careful.

“In this particular case, the teens need to be aware that it is very dangerous for them to be cycling without a helmet, using modified bicycles and no safety lights.

“But at the moment, I am a bit dissatisfied that the focus is on the kids when in this case, they are the victims.

“We do need to also educate other road users because as a cyclist myself, I notice the other road users do not care about cyclists at all,” he lamented.

Having been cycling for the past five years, Datuk Khairul shared that other motorists, whether cars or motorcycles, have no respect for another human being on bicycles as cars and motorcycles usually overtake cyclists without any consideration and expect the cyclists to make way for them.

“Motorists have no respect for a human life on a bicycle and I think that is the biggest problem.

“We need to respect the various bicycle users and this can be achieved through safety awareness on how much space you need to give to a cyclist,” he said.

As cycling is a growing trend in Malaysia, Datuk Khairul feels that the government should consider developing roads or making use of existing infrastructure to allow cyclists to practice their activity safely.

“Maybe the town council needs to start looking at drawing bicycle lanes on existing roads and making the bicycle lanes for bicycles only on the weekends.

“At my neighbourhood, you will see many different types of cyclists every weekend so what we have proposed is to at least have a bicycle lane drawn so that during weekends motorists are aware that they need to take another way,” he said.

Datuk Khairul had also highlighted the need for safe cycling campaigns targeted at youths, which is timely as teen joyriders are a common sight in many suburban towns across the country, and seasoned cyclists as well as there might be aspects of safe cycling that cyclists are not aware of.

The Consumers Association of Penang held a campaign back in 2012 which you can read here while the New South Wales state government had launched a road safety campaign producing the following video aimed at improving interactions between drivers and riders after a new law was implemented requiring motorists to keep a distance of 1 metre when passing bicycle riders.

Whether this will materialize or not will have to be seen but the Kedah government has mentioned that they will include bicycle lanes in future development projects following the incident that shook the nation.

Maybe over time each city and municipality in this country will make roads more cyclist-friendly so that they can be on par with other bicycle-friendly cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam but as of now, to all cyclists out there, be careful and be safe.