For those of you who don’t know, a couple of days ago, 8 teen cyclists were killed when a car hit them on a highway in Johor at 3am in the morning.
“A 22-year-old woman driving a car from Taman Pelangi ploughed into a group of the youths when she was believed to have failed to brake in time.” – Johor Baru Selatan District Police chief, ACP Sulaiman Salleh, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online
But he also added something quite interesting, this group of youths consisted of about 30-40 teenagers between the ages of 13-17, and that they were blocking the highway. But as more and more bits of information started to be reported in the news, it seems that this was not just an unfortunate accident.
And as the investigations continued, the incident sparked many conversations online about who should be held responsible. The driver? The authorities? The parents? Or the teens themselves? Is it even possible to find a person/party responsible for all this? Well, we got curious too, so let’s break them down one by one and see if it is possible to find the party responsible.
Is the driver responsible?
When we the news of the accident broke out, funnily enough we initially thought that it was just another case of reckless driving. Perhaps it’s because almost every other road accident we hear of involves either speeding, drunk driving, or reckless buses. But as we read more about this group of teens, we find that they may be ones at fault here. We’re not sure if the video below is of the actual teens involved in the accident the other day, but it’s just to demonstrate what the teens in Johor have been doing.
These teens are part of a growing culture, one that is defined by the types of bicycles they use. A news site referred to them as “geng basikal lajak” or “basikal nyamuk” because these bicycles are heavily modified (more on that later), and our Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said that the issue has been around for a decade. (Another source even said 17 years!)
“This is (was) an accident waiting to happen. I’ve encountered them from time to time, especially during weekends.
They cycle without regard for other road users, sometimes against the traffic flow.” – Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, as quoted by The Star
And in light of the accident, others have come forward to talk about how these gangs could be a real pain in the asphalt sometimes.
“I did stop once, telling them to stop doing the dangerous stunts but instead, they showed me their middle fingers and used swear words.” – Norizan Nasim, from Taman Perling, Johor, as quoted by The Star
Still, did the accident happen purely because the teens were on the road and not because of the driver? One of the teens involved in the accident actually claimed that the driver was speeding and using her handphone. But it seems that the police didn’t agree with what the teen said because she was detained for a while, but was eventually released with the authorities saying she was neither speeding nor drunk nor using her mobile phone.
Are the authorities responsible?
Surprisingly, there was only one person who blamed the gomen (or more specifically, Najib), and it was Former Information Minister Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin.
8 remaja penunggang basikal terbunuh dilanggar motocar di Johor. Sebelumnya hospital terbakar.Menambah trajidi negara dibawah era Najib.
— Zainudin Maidin (@ZainudinMaidin) February 18, 2017
Of course, such an accusation was quickly shot down, but Najib aside, could the authorities actually have done more to prevent such a tragedy?
It’s possible that the police could have done more to enforce existing laws. Remember we mentioned that these “basikal lajak” were heavily modified? The modifications are more on the illegal and dangerous side.
But if it’s illegal, how in the world were 30-40 kids freely having a joyride on a highway at 3am in the morning? Does this indicate that the police have not been doing enough to get these kids off the roads? Well, the Johor police has said that they have conducted multiple operations and confiscated many bikes already.
From the start of the year until now, they’ve conducted 5 operations and confiscated 17 modified bicycles, and that is aside from the 28 operations and 37 bicycles from last year. Aside from that, the Johor gomen themselves have said that they’ve tried to accommodate to these cyclists.
“The 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.” – Johor UMNO Youth chief, Zulkarnain Kamisan, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today
But we still do have to bear in mind that the gomen has been aware about this for 10 years. And if that is true, it seems a lot more needs to be done than just confiscate a few bicycles. Which And one can wonder how in the world did they allow it to blossom for so long? Still, is it only the fault of the gomen?
Are the teens responsible for their own actions?
When we mentioned that only one or two parties were being blamed online, the teens themselves were one of them. And it’s understandable. We mentioned earlier these kids would swear and middle finger people who told them off on the road, so it’s fair that some people would say that they are the ones at fault.
In Malaysia, anyone under the age of 18 is a “minor”, and there are reasons why they are not considered adults.
“From the prefrontal cortex to the limbic area, the teenage brain is undergoing dramatic changes during adolescence in ways that affect teens’ ability to reason, to weigh consequences for their decisions and to delay gratification long enough to make careful short- and long-term choices.” – Co-founder of a juvenile center, in an article on CNN
Aside from that, a psychology lecturer friend of ours brought up that adolescents often experience something known as “personal fable” where they feel special and immortal, which drives them to do things without thinking of the consequences.
That is why some things like alcohol, smoking, clubbing, and even voting have age restrictions. Last year Malaysia was even considering raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 so that people would be more mature before they started drinking.
But on the other hand, this article brought up that in some cases, minors can be held responsible for their actions. Back in 1964, a girl was hit by a negligent bus driver, but despite it being the fault of the bus driver, the judge said the girl was also partially responsibly because she used that road often, and should have known better than to just run into the middle of the road. And the same can be said about the bicycle teens because people did tell them it was dangerous, but they still chose to engage in the activity anyway.
But just say that they didn’t know of the danger, then the responsibility may be on the last party on our list.
Are the parents of these teens responsible?
We find that the majority of the comments point to the parents as the party responsible. In fact, The Sultan of Johor himself has said that parents should learn from this incident. But here’s the thing, it seems that the parents of these kids actually did try to control them.
“He still wanted to go out despite me insisting he shouldn’t. He left and later at 3am, I got the news that he was involved in an accident.” – Jamiah Sulaiman, mother of one of the victims, as quoted by New Straits Times
In fact, this article mentions that while parents are one of the most influential things in a kid’s life, they will eventually pick up mannerisms from other places as they grow up, something that was echoed by a Professor at UPM who said these teens may simply have been doing the whole basikal lajak thing because it was cool and their friends were doing it.
But it is actually difficult to say that the parents are not responsible. In light of the accident, a cycling group has called for parents to be more involved in what their kids are doing.
“If your child takes an interest in a certain sport or activity, as a parent, it is your duty to find out more about that activity on top of ensuring the safety of your child.” – Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) vice-president, Amarjit Singh Gill, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today
Still, perhaps we also need to consider that so many people were pointing fingers at the parents of the victims that we forget they’ve actually lost their children.
“They (the public) do not know how we feel. Although I am powerless to stop them from spreading these accusations, I am begging them to stop.” – Fatimah Nasir, mother of one of the victims, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today
Is there actually just one person responsible?
At the end of the day, we can say that the driver could have been more careful (though probably the unlikeliest person to be responsible in this scenario), the gomen could have taken action wayyyy earlier, the teens could have listened to the advice people gave them, and the parents could have been more involved in what their kids were doing. But doesn’t that just seem to indicate that maybe everyone has a part to play in ensuring that this never happens again?
Back in the 1970’s, America was facing a huge problem with underaged drinking (60% of traffic fatalities were alcohol related, and two-thirds of these alcohol-related fatalities involved people between the age of 16-20). And out of this problem came Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organisation comprising of the mothers of some of these accident victims who wanted to raise awareness on the issue.
Fast forward a few decades and statistics showed that alcohol-related accidents had halved in number. MADD had been influential in aiding to this, not just in fighting for new laws, but also helping families of victims to cope with their loss.
While we’re not expecting anyone to go form an NGO to deal with this basikal lajak issue, perhaps we can learn from MADD in the sense that instead of pointing fingers to blame someone, a group of determined individuals are actually capable of enacting change.
“Perhaps we should stop the ‘blame game’. Perhaps, we should instead work together with the authorities to find a solution. Hurtful or angry words will not bring them back to life.” – Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, as quoted by New Straits Times
Considering that this also has been around for 10 years, any one party could have done something in between those years before it grew into the huge culture that it is today. So at the very least, This incident has already started to bring this whole issue of basikal lajak to light, and people are talking about it (like here, here, and here).
And hopefully, in time, all parties would be able to work together to deal with the situation…together.