Stefan Pertz has been criticized in social media for commenting on road safety in Malaysia. Shouldn't one be more concerned about the message more than who is delivering it?
It is a good question, what does my nationality have to do with road safety? I could tell you. In one word. But I would rather discuss this a bit. Several times now I have been asked why I would get involved in road safety in countries that aren't mine. I would answer: why not?
Just imagine a tourist arrives in a new country where he experiences how people drive. This is unavoidable as one would use taxis, walk around or even take a long distance coach to see the countryside. It is here where an opinion about road safety is formed. Such a tourist would come back and tell his / her friends about the conditions found there. And this could be either a pleasant experience (like taking a taxi in Japan) or rather one that is freighting (Just this week alone I saw three motorbike accidents with the riders ending up severely mangled on the road side).
I've lived in Malaysia for a long time, and I am not just a casual observer, but I think, we can all make a difference when it comes to road safety. Why not tell the cabbie to slow down? Why not ask the trucker not to park in a way that would block the view onto the street when you exit your office building's car park? Surely, this would impact you no matter what colour your passport is.
I also stick my neck out to defend local truck drivers. Yes, there are some that aren't adhering to the rules and it is those that we hope to reach with Asian Trucker and the activities we run. Sometimes I comment on Facebook posts that deal with road safety. Some respond by telling me that it isn't my business as I am not a local.
Really? I think I have all the right in the world to talk about this as, even without spending every day around truckers, I can observe driving behaviour. Also, I may have some views that I bring with me and could constructively add to the discussion.
Take seat belts for instance. Some truckers may not use them as they think their vehicle is big and they will be safe, therefore no need to buckle up. Guess what! That was the thought in Europe some decades ago too. But we have moved on and improved things.
Anyway, don't you think that I should have the right to comment on behaviour of people around me? I could also comment that people are irresponsible when they throw rubbish on the ground. Or maybe I can comment on the skills of local chefs, comparing the cooking skills of locals with those in Europe. Oh, hang on, I can't do this as I am not a local! I would rather ask what qualifies a local that hasn't got much to do with commercial vehicles, other than sharing the road, to comment on such issues. Has Michael Chiew ever climbed up into a truck to see what "blind spots around a truck" really means? I have. And not just once.
Perhaps it could also be the case of the Japanese consultant that urged us to pretend to be a fish in a bowl and jump out to get a different point of view? I would argue that sometimes we actually need outsiders to give things a fresh perspective or impetus. There are many experts working in areas such as construction, oil & gas and IT in South-East Asian countries. So why can't a foreigner be involved in road safety? When it comes to passenger cars, users actually seem to prefer European makes, as they are safer. Must be our expertise in making safe things that one is after, yes?
In short, my nationality has nothing to do with road safety. And yet, it is everything to do with it. Funnily, we get criticised when we get involved in something that the locals aren't touching. If everyone would do their part for road safety, nobody would need to make noise, no foreigner, no local. And to those thinking that I am disqualified to talk about this topic as a result of having the "wrong" passport, I would like to remind them that I am also a participant on the roads just as they are. I invite those to join us in our effort to make the roads safer.