What’s the bigger picture of potholes and popular minister Datuk KJ crashing into one and suffering minor injuries?

While feeling sorry for him, his fall has focussed so much attention on one of the leading causes of road deaths.

Now we trust that this event involving the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation can morph into a good outcome: fixing potholes quickly and reducing the toll of motorcyclists in road crashes.

Just for the background, Malaysia has the third highest road crash deaths in ASEAN. About 65 per cent of road crash mortalities in Malaysia involve motorcyclists, and more than 80 per cent of this is on roads other than toll roads.

 “From data, we have seen a lot of crashes involving single motorcyclists, actually due to a sudden change in direction and a high probability due to avoid the potholes,” said Professor Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah, Professor in Transport, School of Civil Engineering, University Sains Malaysia.

Referring him to a statement by Ipoh City Council as reported in The Star today where Perak MB said that regarding small potholes, local councils like the Ipoh City Council “would wait for a few more and fix them all at once to lower the cost”, Farhan said it shouldn’t be that way.

“Maybe it’s about costs of materials and mobilisation. It is the responsibility of authorities to ensure that there are no potholes,” he said.

“If you want to have first class roads there must be a change of SOP. Every pothole is a risk to every road used.”

However, Farhan said he had a suspicion that it could be a matter of procurement and/or funding.

“The authorities could have their own team or they might have to contract out the repairs,” Farhan said

“If they have their own team, then they have no excuse. By right, they should know their own roads and if there’s a pothole, they should fix it automatically. That should be their KPI.

“But if they don’t have their own team, especially the smaller state JKRs, they might have to contract out. There are all those procurement policies and could be, it takes time. That’s why it could be delayed.

Farhan however sees a bigger picture.

“We look at the ground. Sometimes the authorities’ hands are tied. We should look beyond. After some many years in road safety, I feel that the policy of financing road maintenance is the major issue: 

“Road tax should be used to partially finance the costs of road repairs on non-toll roads.

“The road tax collected by the Road Transport Department goes to the government’s Consolidated Fund and there is no Consolidated Fund specifically for transport.’

“The road taxes that the Road Transport Department collects funds many purposes including public transport projects like Prasarana’s MRT, LRT and Rapid Buses, and not specifically on road maintenance.

“So what are we paying road taxes for: bad road conditions,” Farhan asked rhetorically.

Besides his teaching position, Prof. Farhan is the Deputy VC of USM and was Director General of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research from 2008-2011.