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Too young to drive?

29 January 2012 |
Too young to drive?
By P. Selvarani and Tan Choe Choe

There have been many fatal road accidents involving young people at the wheel or on motorcycles. As young people tend to take risks, should they be allowed on the road only when they are older?
P. Selvarani and Tan Choe Choe find out

THE country’s youngest driver to get into a fatal road accident was an 11-year-old motorcyclist. Last year alone, three 11-year-olds were killed when the motorcycles they were riding were involved in accidents.

By law, children below the age of 16 have no business riding anything other than a bicycle.

But the stark reality is that kids who are barely in their teens are speeding on our roads on borrowed motorcycles and cars with nary a thought for safety.

Over the years, statistics have indicated that young drivers make up a substantial portion of the fatalities in road accidents — an average of about 30 per cent annually.

In 2010, out of 6,872 fatalities, 28.7 per cent or 1,971 involved young drivers aged 25 and below.

“This is a trend that’s not only occurring in Malaysia but also in other parts of the world. This age group is problematic and a big challenge to road safety authorities.

“Our difference is we have a lot of motorcyclists. From the 1,971 fatalities, 1,733 involved motorcyclists,” said Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (Miros) director-general Professor Dr Wong Shaw Voon.

That means a staggering 88.9 per cent of young drivers getting into fatal accidents are motorcyclists.

“This is not just reflected in this age group, but also the overall road traffic accidents in the country (in 2010), where about 61 per cent involved motorcyclists,” he added.

And what’s worse — a big number of these young drivers below 25 — 38.2 per cent of them – do not actually possess a driving licence.

Road Transport Department statistics reveal that until October last year, 182,285 motorists were caught without a Competent Driving Licence (CDL). The majority, 84,246, were motorcyclists.

In 2010, more than half the 420,147 motorists caught without a CDL were motorcyclists.

Police data also showed that speeding was the main cause of fatal accidents — as seen in 25.6 per cent of the cases.

“Young people have a tendency to take risks and try new things. That’s human nature, and it is especially true of male drivers,” said Wong.

According to Road Safety Department director-general Leslie Leon surveys have indicated that new drivers were generally selfish and inconsiderate with a tendency to speed, cut queues and beat the red light.

Benedict Chan, 22, admitted to the New Sunday Times that he tends to speed, but thinks he is not the only one among his friends to do this.

“Most of my friends speed, too. Sometimes you feel like driving a bit faster. Maybe I’m a bit impatient. I just want to get to the next destination quickly.”

Michelle Ng, 21, however, said many of her friends still did not have the confidence and skill to handle the road.

“I have many friends who have already got their CDL but seldom, if at all, drive on their own. How is that competent?” she said.

The authorities are trying to put this right by revamping the driving school curriculum to produce more competent and considerate drivers.

RTD deputy director-general Datuk Ismail Ahmad said the revised curriculum, due to be implemented this year, would see learner drivers assessed not just on driving skills but also their attitude and behaviour when on the road.

But it would be unfair to pin the blame of the high rate of accidents among young drivers entirely on the driving curriculum because many of these drivers did not even go to driving school in the first place, Wong pointed out.

“No matter how good our curriculum is, it will not solve the problem as long as you have parents who allow their underage children to ride motorcycles, which by design, are a more dangerous form of transport compared with cars, buses or trains. And there’s this group of kids who think they can, and so should be on the road.”

Wong thinks it is not necessary to raise the minimum driving age — 16 for motorcyclists and 17 for cars — until a more efficient public transport system is available.

“Mobility is a need. Some might even say it’s a basic human right and even our young need to get around,” he said, stressing that the present public transport system was insufficient to meet the needs of a growing population.

“We cannot just look at the public transport system in Kuala Lumpur, we have to look at other states as well.”

Driving school instructor Cikgu Yap, who also blogs at, in discussing “Why do young Malaysian drivers get into road accidents?”, wrote that it may be because: “Parents fail to realise or (are) unaware that their children are just only 17 years old … they seem oblivious to the fact that their children are still inexperienced.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reported that 3,000 car drivers below 25 years of age are killed or injured in Britain every year.

Following a Swedish study that showed that accident rates fell when driving is introduced before the age of 17, a young drivers scheme has been introduced throughout the United Kingdom to equip children as young as 11 with some driving experience.

The children are trained off the road, in car parks, racing tracks and other such venues.

Asked if such a young drivers’ scheme was suitable for Malaysia, Wong said for it to work, parental participation would be necessary as they need to learn how a child can be properly introduced to driving.

Read more: Too young to drive? – General – New Straits Times


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