Set minimum age for pillion riders - Experts
KUALA LUMPUR - Parents holding their babies while riding pillion on a motorcycle or, for that matter, child pillion riders not wearing a helmet are a common sight on Malaysian roads, especially in housing areas and rural places.
It is apparent that parents and guardians are turning a blind eye to their children’s safety even though Bukit Aman’s Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department data clearly shows that motorcyclists dominate road accident fatalities in this country.
According to their statistics, over 60 percent of deaths caused by crashes in the last 20 years involved motorcyclists and their passengers, with 45 percent of them aged between 16 and 30.
The grim figures, however, have yet to open the eyes of most parents and make them realise that their children’s safety is their responsibility, thus compelling experts to call for a minimum age to be set for pillion riders.
Whether or not such a proposal is practical, the fact is, currently in Malaysia, anyone - even children below five years of age - can ride pillion on a motorcycle.
Among those advocating for a minimum age for pillion riders is road safety expert Associate Prof Dr Law Teik Hua who told Bernama existing provisions under the Road Transport Act 1987 state that only two persons - the motorcyclist and pillion passenger - are allowed to be on a motorcycle but there is no mention of the pillion rider’s minimum age or physical size requirements.
The glaring omissions are among the factors that have allowed children aged below five to ride pillion on motorbikes.
"It’s dangerous for children below five years to ride pillion because at their age, they can’t sit stably due to their small size and body posture. And, their legs are too short for their feet to rest on the rear foot pegs properly.
"Furthermore, the kids are not mature or smart enough to be able to stabilise themselves and follow the rider’s rhythm as he/she makes a turn and so on. This is why it is crucial to set a minimum age for pillion riders,” he said.
There have been suggestions in the past to set a minimum age for pillion riders but to date, no efforts have been made to that end.
In several countries in the west, one has to reach a certain age and meet certain criteria in terms of body size and height to be allowed to ride pillion on motorcycles, according to Law.
He said such specifications are necessary because some children may meet the minimum age requirement but may not be tall or big enough to ride safely on a motorcycle.
NOT ALL WILL AGREE TO MINIMUM AGE PROPOSAL
Law, who heads the Centre for Road Safety Research at Universiti Putra Malaysia, said five states in the United States have enforced legislation related to this issue, with the minimum age for pillion riders being five to eight years.
The state of Arkansas, for example, has set the minimum age at eight while it is seven in Hawaii and five in Louisiana, Texas and Washington.
"Whether a new law has to be drafted or an existing law has to be amended, that’s up to the authorities... but the important thing is the time has come for our country to set a minimum age considering that riding a motorcycle has been identified as less safe than driving a car.
"We’re worried about the safety of children, more so those who don’t wear a helmet. Their risk of sustaining injuries is high as they may let go of their grip if they happen to fall asleep at the back or when the motorcycle hits a pothole,” he said.
Law himself felt that a child should at least be five years old before being allowed to ride pillion, adding that they should also meet a certain height and size criteria to enable them to stabilise their body while riding on a motorcycle.
"Not all will agree to the minimum age proposal because most people in the low-income or B40 group don’t have cars and usually go from one place to another with their families on motorcycles.
"But then, this issue involves lives and only by having a law can we educate the public and make them more aware of their responsibility towards their children’s safety,” he said.
REDUCE HELMET PRICES
Asked if there is a need to amend or introduce new legislation to address the issue of parents failing to provide proper safety helmets for their children to wear when riding pillion with them, Law said instead of this, the authorities should look into reviewing the price tags of SIRIM-certified helmets.
A survey of shops selling motorcycles and accessories in the Klang Valley by Bernama showed that prices of safety helmets bearing the SIRIM mark start at RM65, while plastic or toy helmets are available on e-commerce platforms for as low as RM20 each.
"I think the trend of not wearing a helmet or using a toy helmet is probably due to the price factor. This is why the prices (of SIRIM-certified helmets) should be reviewed as the B40 group may not be able to afford it,” he added.
Another road safety expert Prof Dr Kulanthayan KC Mani echoed Law’s views, saying that the Road Transport Act has adequate provisions to regulate the wearing of helmets.
"All the authorities have to do is optimise the legislation by stepping up enforcement activities. If nothing changes even after optimising the law, then there’s a need to review the existing legislation,” he added.
Kulanthayan also urged school parent-teacher associations to play a role in educating parents on the importance of prioritising their children’s safety.
"I suggest that child safety helmets be sold in school bookshops because many parents may not know where to get a proper helmet equipped with all the safety features,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department principal assistant director Superintendent Dr Bakri Zainal Abidin said his department is optimising advocacy as well as overall enforcement together with schools in raising awareness among parents and pupils on the importance of wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle.
"Our department constantly monitors areas where schools are located and issues summonses to parents or students who fail to comply with traffic rules, including not wearing a helmet.
"The common excuse given by parents for not wearing a helmet is that they are just making a ‘short trip’ to send their child to school,” he said.
In 2021 alone, a total of 89 operations, dubbed Op Didik, were carried out by the police nationwide, which saw a total of 1,563 summonses being issued to parents, guardians and students.
Bakri said his department has also placed officers at schools who serve as the liaison between students and the police.
"From time to time, we also organise road safety campaigns at schools,” he added. - BERNAMA