In recent times, the numbers of young drivers getting involved in serious road accidents are on the rise. AARON CHONG and HE RUI MING delve into the psyche of a youth speedster
*names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee
Speedy* who has been driving his family car since he was 18 years old, received his first car as a present for his 22nd birthday from his parents last year.
Since then, he has been zooming down local highways at average speeds of 160 km/h. The avid motor-racing fan has also tried his hand at “racing with anyone” whom he thinks is going fast.
Although Speedy claims that he is a good driver and knows the dangers of speeding, he says, “I only speed when the situation allows it – when the roads are clear, and most importantly, when no traffic police is patrolling.”
Hui Ting, 19, one of Speedy’s passengers, recounts her “hair-raising experience”, in his car. A motorcycle nearly toppled over from behind when Speedy drove too quickly in the same direction.
She complains that drivers like him “don’t warn others of his intentions and irresponsibly place other motorists in danger”.
Speedy is one of an increasing number of young speedsters on the roads of Singapore. Fortunately for the 23-year-old, he hasn’t been involved in any accidents so far. He claims, “I get a sense of adrenaline rush and love the feeling of going fast.”
Not so lucky warehouse supervisor, Regan Lee Da Wen, was charged three years ago with causing the death of Angelia He Xueli due to reckless driving. Regan was driving a Mazda MX-5 convertible that flipped over along Upper Paya Lebar Road and slammed into a van.
Not all young drivers are able to cheat death.
A May 4 article in The Straits Times this year reveals that Singapore has one of the worst road-fatality records among developed countries. In 2005, there were 2.3 deaths for every 10,000 vehicles as compared with 0.8 in Japan, 1.2 in Australia And 1.8 in the United States. In 2006, Singapore’s road-fatality rose to 2.4 deaths for every 10,000 vehicles.
In one AsiaOne Motoring article , statistics from the Traffic Police showed that 250 of the 1,283 drivers injured in accidents in 2006 – or nearly one in five – were below the age of 30. Regarding fatal cccidents, nearly one in three was under 30 years.
Says Mr Joshua Tan, 29, counsellor and family life executive at Care Community Services , “There might be a growth spurt of hormones in their bodies that cause them to push their limits. Young adults are also in the stage of their lives where they want to find their identity and their place in the world.”
Mr Tan advises, “Young adults should not assume that they can do anything.” He says that they need is to “learn to take a step back, [and] weigh the pros and the cons.”. More importantly, young adults should “think of how their actions will affect others“.
Ultimately, promoting better road safety through campaigns, having tighter traffic controls and stiffer punishments will only achieve so much. The onus is still on the individual to be accountable to himself and the well being of those around him.
The statistics tell a grim story – for the last five years, over 40 percent of road fatalities were motorcyclists. In 2007 alone, 103 out of 214 road-users killed were motorcyclists and their pillion riders.
As the traffic police set up the Motorcycle Task Force (MTF) in a bid to continue their quest to make the roads safer for Singapore’s most vulnerable motorists, many gung-ho youths are still hopping onto motorcycles.
The Singapore Safety Driving Centre (SSDC) notes that the majority of motorcycle learners are youths. On average, 159 students turn up at the doors of SSDC to sign up each month. SSDC claims that the number has been decreasing slightly, but it is still too early to tell.
The dangers of riding a motorcycle are obvious – a rider is totally unprotected in the event of an accident. As a result, they are easily injured when compared to their car-driving brethren. When it comes to head-on collisions, they are almost guaranteed a gruesome demise.
This is made worse when taking a motorcycle’s small size into account. Many accidents happen because many larger vehicles fail to notice the motorcycles due to their blind spots.
Concerned parents are quickly seeing the vehicle as a fast track to death.
Maxine Tan, 19, ceased her motorcycle lessons this year after her father decided that the life of a rider was too hazardous for his daughter.
“I was disappointed but I stopped so that he could stop worrying about me,” she laments.
Parents aren’t the only ones thinking twice about letting youths get on the two-wheeled, supposed machines of death.
“No seat belt, no windscreen…one hit and it’s over,” says Patrick Tan, a 20-year-old National Serviceman (NS man) who has been driving a car for a year. Safety is the reason behind his choice of transport.
However, not everyone shares his sentiments. Keith Tan, a 21-year-old NS man currently getting a bike licence, says, ”For someone like me who isn’t working full time yet, a motorcycle is more affordable.”
A brand-new Nissan March would cost around S$57,000, probably way out of league for any regular student. Yet, for a relatively low sum of S$5,000, one is granted access to a wide catalogue of motorcycles. A second-hand can cost as low as $1,600.
Convenience is also a major factor. Scott Ng, 25, who has been riding a bike for seven years, will tell you that whether or not traffic jams exist, a bike can cut through them like a knife through butter.
In addition, a motorcycle provides you with an experience that is hard to replicate. With the wind in your hair and the sound of the engine roaring, you will find it hard to have a dull moment on a bike.
Though riding a motorcycle does have its perks, it is undeniable that riders are exposed to countless dangers. This is especially true for the young and inexperienced. More than half of motorcycle accidents often involve riders with less than five months’ experience.
What makes this worse is the tendency of young riders to fall under an illusion of invulnerability. This, coupled with the fragile bodies of motorcycles, makes the possibility of death among these budding motorists all too real on Singapore’s roads.
Still, this fails to dishearten some motorcyclists. Since the start of this year, 731 new motorcycles have hit the road.
Perhaps Keith speaks for them when he says, “Anyone can die anywhere. As long as I take the necessary precautions and do my part in being a responsible road-user, I have nothing to fear.”