April 24, 2017.
Recollections & Reflections – A weekly column by Aziz Hassan
IT’S been back for just over a week but already the enforcers of the revised and expanded demerit system for traffic offenders have had to work overtime issuing summonses to those who drive beyond the speed limits or beat the traffic lights.
A news report said that 11,556 summonses were issued in just the first five days after its implementation on April 15 for speeding and 1,540 for beating the lights.
The simple assumption arising from this is that road users in Malaysia simply don’t care, although the bottom-line is safety, including their own.
Let’s first take a brief look at history.
The Kejara or road offenders’ demerit point system, one of two components of this revised system now called Awas or Automatic Awareness System, was first implemented by the Road Transport Department way back in 1984.
For reasons not many can recall, not even those in authority, Kejara later went out of the window into thin air and then oblivion.
There was also the Automatic Enforcement System or AES, the other component of Awas, which uses cameras to record those who love to speed and beat the lights.
The AES was contracted out to a private outfit and implemented in late 2012. In a matter of only months it got entangled in a dispute with local authorities that were not amused that the cameras were installed in their jurisdictions without approval. The police too had their say, which indicated they were not in full agreement with the way the system was enforced.
By 2013 the government had to assume control, but not without compensating the group that controlled the system. News reports said the payout was RM18 million.
News reports in 2015 showed that Bousted and the Armed Forces Fund Board had bought over the AES which was going to be reintroduced soon. As it turned out, soon was actually like two years later.
One aspect that continues to raise questions is the fact that the police is not involved at all with Awas.
National police chief Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar has said that Bukit Aman, the hill where the federal police HQ is located, will discuss with the RTD on the possibility of integrating Awas with the traffic police system, as sounded out recently by the RTD to ensure more comprehensive enforcement.
Of the two offences Awas is currently dealing with, the police would be the most active agency going after motorists who speed and that it is not involved in Awas from the beginning doesn’t make any sense.
What this suggests is that there were other issues at work, most likely a case of territory and who should have the lead role and the bigger say.
But back to the issue of attitude.
If they are the ones who will eventually be made to pay for committing the two offences, why is it road-users don’t seem to care?
Is it because they don’t think the enforcers are capable of doing a good job? Maybe.
Or is it because they are so sure they can find a way out and continue to commit more offences? Maybe that too.
Since 30 odd years ago we have had many systems implemented. Remember the cameras similar to the ones used by AES that were put up under the police’s jurisdiction at many road intersections in the Klang Valley?
Many had to be dismantled a few years later when many roads were widened.
Remember also the news reports some years ago about how thousands and thousands of road users had with them countless numbers of unpaid summonses? And remember one of the reasons that made it possible for offenders to escape being detected? It’s because the offenders could not be traced after having lived at an address different from that in their identity cards or driving licences.
Given this experience, do not be surprised if the agencies involved in Awas later find themselves in the same predicament.
Faiz Fadzil, a lawyer for Parti Amanah Negara, also argued that there could be jeopardy involved since Awas imposes demerit points while also issuing a summons to an offender. He cited Article 7 (2) of the federal Constitution on the principle of legal justice as the reason.
To this Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai countered by saying that the Road Transport Act provides for both the imposition of demerit points and issuance of a summons.
Liow’s understanding of double jeopardy is only when a person is charged twice for the same offence.
This issue of course is for the courts to decide, if someone takes it there that is. When there are two contradictory laws, the Constitution is supreme.
In the meantime Liow also disagrees with a suggestion that Awas penalises people.
His reaction: “It is not to punish but rather to educate and raise awareness.”
Isn’t being given demerit points a form of punishment?