'Offer more protection, even when we are not riding'

ST executive photojournalist Seah Kwang Peng, who has eight years of riding experience, says motorcyclists often have to stop wherever they can - shelter or no shelter - and put on their raincoats quickly.
ST executive photojournalist Seah Kwang Peng, who has eight years of riding experience, says motorcyclists often have to stop wherever they can - shelter or no shelter - and put on their raincoats quickly.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

My first thoughts after hearing about the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) accident on March 11, in which six motorcyclists were injured and two died after a van crashed into them, were that I could have been one of them.

The motorcyclists - all Malaysians - had stopped on the road shoulder under a flyover to put on raincoats when they saw dark clouds ahead.

No motorcyclist likes to ride in the rain. If we are not in a rush and if there are more rain shelters along the expressways, we would prefer to stop and wait for the rain to pass.

But based on my eight years of riding experience, more often than not, we have to stop wherever we can - on the road shoulder, with or without shelter - and put on our raincoats as fast as we can.

Vehicles pass by less than 2m away from us if the road shoulder is narrow, and we pray that we do not get hit by drivers who veer off the left lane.

We can only pray because when we are busy putting on our raincoats, we are usually not looking at the traffic coming from the rear. We would not know until something hits us. Even if we saw it coming, there would hardly be any time to react.

We use bus stops or even petrol kiosks when we are on smaller roads. Tunnels and sheltered areas underneath flyovers are our best refuge on the expressways.

When there are no designated shelters for motorcyclists that allow us to park in a safe zone, we are pretty much exposed to passing traffic.

The BKE accident took place when the motorcyclists were not riding. How can we make it safe for riders caught in such a situation?

Over the years, the authorities have increased the number of designated shelters on our expressways, but more can be constructed. To make it safe, a shelter has to be designed to have separate entry and exit points to prevent motorcyclists from crashing into one another.

It has to be able to accommodate at least 10 motorcycles at any time, as I have seen a shelter designed for 13 motorcycles being fully occupied.

Most importantly, it should have a buffer zone away from the expressway traffic so motorcyclists can wait safely till the rain passes.

Tragedies happen, more so for motorcyclists than any other road users. Official data shows that last year, there were 62 fatalities involving motorcyclists and pillion riders, compared with eight for car drivers and passengers.

Motorcyclists already face a tougher time riding on the roads. It would be good if there were more protection, especially when they are not even riding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline ''Offer more protection, even when we are not riding''. Print Edition | Subscribe