A six-year prison sentence and RM6,000 fine handed down to a driver for causing the deaths of eight teenagers on bicycles has caused Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS) chairman Prof Dr Wong Shaw Voon to speak up. Reported in The Star, Prof Wong said parents should not allow their children to ride or race bicycles, modified – popularly known as basikal lajak – or otherwise, on highways.

“Parents should stop their children from such dangerous activities because not only will the victim suffer, the family will also if accidents happen,” he said. “This is something that we should not support. The highway is not built for bicycle racing. Extreme bicycle activities should be done in specially designed parks,” said Prof Wong.

The sentencing of clerk Sam Ke Ting, 27, for causing the death of the eight cyclists at Jalan Lingkaran Dalam in Johor Bahru in 2017 has had many Malaysians commenting on social media about what is perceived as a heavy handed sentence. Sam was originally freed from a charge of reckless driving by the magistrates’ court in Johor Bahru in October 2019, being acquitted and discharged at the end of the prosecution’s case without having her called to the stand for her defence.

MCA spokesperson Chan Quin Er expressed disappointment at the sentence, saying “the decision puts a huge responsibility on drivers as they must remain careful on the streets even if they have not consumed alcohol and are within the speed limit. This is especially because she had given her full cooperation and had been freed twice by the Magistrate’s Court.”

Doyen of the Malaysian road safety community and industry, Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye weighed in, calling for the case to adjudicated fairly. “If they say ‘reckless driving’, how do they define it? At what speed was the woman driving? On the other hand, we never expect kids to be there at that particular time, on a slope, and racing,” Lee said.

paultan.org spoke to Hasnan Badi, Malaysian local and international downhill mountain bike racer with 15 years of racing experience. Hasnan, better known as Uncle Nan Bully to his friends and competition, said there are several issues at play in this incident.

“Leaving the sentence aside, the Malaysian legal system has delivered judgement and there it is. I will assume Sam’s legal team will pursue all avenues for appeal,” said Hasnan. “But, first, what are the children, they are minors, doing out on the road at 3 am?” asked Hasnan.

“Secondly, this is an issue of safety. The basikal lajak they are riding is not fit for use, there is no safety,” he said. “The basikal lajak, with cut-down handlebars and perhaps no brakes, with the position they are riding in, does not give proper control,” Hasnan elaborated.

However, Hasnan raised the point that drivers are required to be responsible and in control of their vehicle at all times. “Look, we are drivers and riders, sometimes [expletive deleted] happens,” said Hasnan. “But drivers must be aware and be prepared to take necessary action to avoid accidents where possible,” he said.

Hasnan said roads are not the place for bicycle racing except under controlled conditions. “It comes down to safety and education. If the kids are not educated on safety by the parents and the parents are not aware of what their children are doing, then this situation will happen again.”