Thursday, May 18, 2006

The buck stops where?

Someone commented that I should write something about road traffic in Brunei Darussalam. That brings back old memories. The first ministry I worked for was actually responsible for the Road Safety Council and I was in the secretariat and at a time was the officer responsible for land transport department's policies. I remembered being on radio announcing the first traffic light installed at the simpang going into the present Centrepoint/Mall area from Jalan Gadong. At that point in time, the Centrepoint was not yet built and the only shop of note was the Hua Ho Gadong. For some reason for the radio interview, I was advised not to say the simpang leading to Hua Ho, so I had to say the simpang leading to Hasbullah complex. It confused a lot of people as that complex even though many people passed by it everyday, is not particularly well known, even now. (The next time you passed by, the Million Goldsmith is in the Hasbullah Complex.)

During my stint there, I realised one of the major difficulties about roads and traffic in Brunei Darussalam are the many different authorities running it. For instance, the construction of roads are undertaken by the Roads Department of the Public Works Department with money provided for under the 5 year National Development Fund whose development plans are prepared by the Economic Planing and Development Department. The Land Transport Department is responsible for the registration and licensing of cars including their safety as well as the licensing of all drivers including ensuring their ability to drive on roads. The enforcement unit of the Land Transport Department has authority over commercial vehicles and can pull them over if they commit violations on the road but does not have the authority to stop private vehicles. But if the cars are brought in for licensing or any other purpose, they have the authority not to license the car. The Police is responsible for the enforcement of road traffic laws including speeding and stopping cars with safety violations. The Electrical Department is responsible for the traffic lights. Anyway, by now, everyone gets the picture.

So, when certain problems arises, such as the huge roundabout at Beribi/Kiulap - who should be responsible? The issues include construction design of the roundabout, the ability of drivers and in some cases the technical capability of the cars. In an ideal situation, none of these should arise - most of us who have been abroad can see the various spaghetti junctions in UK - the one on M6 leading to Birmingham is particularly confusing. But in Brunei, problems arose and the difficulties were made acute because there is no one central agency overseeing it. In 9 out of 10 cases, issues are discussed at the Road Safety Council but the council is an advisory agency which has no legal authority on its own and can only ask or advise individual departments to carry out whatever recommendations the council agrees upon.

I have not even brought in issues of attitudes of drivers and so forth. The three areas of concerns which road safety specialists always allude to are the 3 Es. Education, Engineering and Enforcement. These three have to be coordinated and attitudes of drivers come under Education. However if that is lacking and compounded with poor road designs (Engineering) and lax policing (Enforcement) - then you can have a catastrophe in waiting. The many literatures I have read include how to deal with the way institutional responsibilities are assigned for managing different parts of the road network and how each part of the network is managed. Institutional responsbility include establishing the legal status of roads and the assignment of responsibility for designated and undesignated roads. Management arrangements deal with restructuring existing road agencies, centralizing management of small road networks, contracting out planning and management of roads, and dealing with undesignated roads. There is therefore a need to sort out these issues. However, to be fair, this situation happens all over the world. Though a number of them try to sort out things through the creation of central agencies such as the Federal Highway Authority etc. To talk properly about road traffic and road safety, you have to understand the underlying complexity of the issues under it.


G-`FerRo said...

Hmmm... ah one of my fav. subjects roads.. traffic...

the 3 Es.. are important, but IMHO the most important are Education & Engineering ... if ppl are educated and the road systems are properly done, I guess no need for enforcement as all user will obediently doing their part.

Let me share some local scenes that can be improve:

1. U turn should be made legal at traffic lite. y? because, when the traffic lite to the right turn green, drivers can go to their right junction hence it is very.. very safe to do a u turn. compared to doing a (legal) u turn at the highway!

2. Any entry or exit junction esp. at the highway should be at least 1km in length, so that driver can gain speed to reach at least 80km/h hence flowing with the flow, also for the exit, giving them ample time to slow down, unlike some existing exit/entry lanes which at some area are less then 500m in length.

3.Can all the contractors maintaining the road erect early warning signage at least 1000m from their site! so that drivers can be well prepared, but look what happen now? If accident happen whom to blame? I presume, these requirements are listed from their tender doc. but don't think they can be bothered.

4.Please no jogging at the highway! It is no place for casual jogger nor pedestrians and in the UK it is even illegal to ride your bicycle on the motorway! btw, their are many recreational areas that u can properly do your jogging.

5. No junction should be made very near after the exit of the highway, this is very dangerous as some people who are not aware of it, might not be ready to stop in time, esp. if the person who wanted to enter that junction don't even use their indicator, (why do some people rarely use their indicator light? It will not decrease your fuel tremendously...), e.g. exit lane from Muara Tutong Highway after Bukit Shahbandar, entering the Jalan Jerudong, there is a residential junction very close, or perhaps it's still along the exit lane. oh well I dunno... somewhere there.. luckily I seldom use that road.

my, it's quite a long lists, still many more that I can think of but ppl will lose their interest in reading anyway before I finish ..

6. To all the drivers who use their fog light, please switch it off, why u wanna switch it on? wanna show off u've got fog lights? do u know it's really hard to distinguish whether or not you are braking or not? And it is so annoying to see such bright light, only use it during a very hazy day.

Peace u all...

naz said...

Oh, fog lights. The bane of any night-time driving experience here.

Anonymous said...

Now I know which one was the first traffic light of Brunei. Would you like to enlighten us on Brunei number plates, as most of us in Bandar won't like to use KK, and BAA is still stuck in the bureaucracy?