Tuesday, October 23, 2012

AES: The Underlying Truth

Published in Free Malaysia Today (22nd October 2012)
By : Muhammad Shaahidullah Shayaa

There has been a lot of fuss on the newly implemented Automated Enforcement System (AES) over the media since the past few days, with politicians from the Opposition picking up on this issue and turning it into a political circus.

Why are we so hard-pressed on defending traffic offenders? Don’t we use the road every day and realize how annoying and sometimes dangerous these reckless law-breakers are?

Speeding, breaking of red lights, queue jumping, overtaking on double lines as well as those who enter restricted roads during peak hours; these are daily occurrences in our traffic experience.

Why should we be worried or afraid if we are all law-abiding citizens?

Are we simply a nation of reckless drivers when we are voicing our dissatisfaction over a new system that could ensure road safety for all of us?

First of all, the AES has been implemented all over the world especially in developed countries such as France, Germany, Australia, Singapore and the United States. There are 90 countries from around the world that have implemented similar electronic systems, and the results have been more than satisfactory.

Take France for an example, the number of deaths on the road have dropped by 27 per cent within just three years of implementation. In Kuwait, the rate of traffic accidents has reduced by 48 per cent while in Germany, 80 per cent of road users are complying to traffic laws in the designated AES locations.

Since its first phase implementation in our country on Sept 23 this year, the 14 cameras that had been installed at the blackspot locations in Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya reportedly captured a total of 63,558 traffic offences within the first eight days.

This figure should serve as a reminder for all of us to obey traffic laws, not to concoct some sort of vilified argument that the government and its cronies are robbing us! And guess what, the number of drivers caught for traffic violation fell by more than half in the past week. Road users are now more careful and are complying with traffic laws because they do not want to get caught red-handed on 11MP high resolution cameras that could not only capture still images but video footages as well by the roadsides.

How could this be a bad thing for the people of Malaysia?

We need to be reminded of the purpose and advantages of the system in the first place.

The AES carries a variety of advantages, other than the prime objective of ensuring the safety of all road users. Let us be reminded again that the AES is not a system of hidden cameras where policemen hide in bushes along the highway.

Warning signboards are placed near the designated locations to remind us that we should obey the law. Photographs of vehicles and license plate number of the offenders are reviewed at the AES control centre and will be passed on to JPJ for the issuance of a fine or summons.

Here is the baffling part. The summons issued are real-time evidence based, they help to reduce human interference in the issuance of summons, which is another way of saying we could reduce or eradicate bribery. Isn’t that what Malaysia wants? We condemn corruption and bribery 24/7 and now, all the sudden, we are against a system that could stop it? We are against bribery but it is okay to break traffic laws?

Another great aspect of the AES is that it helps to decrease the number of personnel currently conducting the tasks manually, i.e. the policemen hiding in bushes. They could be remobilized to provide more value-added service such as easing traffic congestion around the city. As much as you hate being secretly monitored while driving, do you think these policemen love to hide in bushes? They have other work too.

The AES increases the effectiveness of traffic enforcement through a system that works around the clock -- in rain or shine. It does not discriminate under any circumstances, as there are no direct personal interaction between traffic offenders and the system, nor does it discriminate between private, commercial or public vehicles.

The AES also aims to increase the POBC (Perception of Being Caught) rate among Malaysian road users thereby reducing the rate of accidents. Normally, the POBC rate among Malaysian road users is 25 percent on regular days and 50 per cent during festive seasons where road safety campaigns such as Ops Sikap are being implemented.

In developed countries where road users are more disciplined and knowledgeable, the POBC rate is between 80-90 per cent. We still have a long way to go, but what we are in the right direction. Let us see what happens when more cameras are installed at all the 817 blackspots all over the country.

Certain people are calling the AES “highway robbery” and some even went further by demanding to change the name to “Saman 1-Malaysia.” Penang Chief Minister cited it as a tool to milk the rakyat for maximum profits rather than to serve as deterrent to traffic offenders.

A business is still a business and these companies need to make money at some point, needn’t they? According to the Transport Ministry, the government did not fork out a single sen for AES and these companies will bear all the cost. If this is true, then they have to obtain loans from financial institutions to purchase the AES cameras and the technology, and like any other business, these concessionaires are anticipating returns from their investment.

Nobody made a fuss when MyeG Berhad charges a small administrative fee to process online applications such as traffic summons and road tax renewal, then how come the public is angry with the government and the two companies when they are working around the same business model?

There shouldn’t be any fuss over AES should we aspire to become a civilized, cultured and matured society. We cross our fingers in optimism that in the longer run, the AES will be effective in reducing fatal road accidents, as proven in many other countries around the world. There are approximately 20 million registered vehicles in the country and the number of traffic accidents and deaths are growing each year. Sure, the issuance of summons does not stop irresponsible drivers from making our roads a living nightmare for all of us, but we should start somewhere, shouldn’t we?

Shahid was the private secretary to Dato’ Seri Idris Jala. He is now on sabbatical leave.

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