Malaysia – Driving in Malaysia (2018)

They faced off, eyes on each other as the mid-day sun beat down on them. They dared not move a muscle as sweat trickled from their brow, their hands barely touching their sides… The traffic lights then turned from red to green, and the two road gunslingers raced off leaving others in their wake.

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur where this scene is repeated every day. This, plus speeding, overloaded vehicles, and the inability for road users to be considerate has resulted in Malaysia having the dubious honour of being ranked number three in world in road deaths for developing countries, more than China and India. It’s not all gloom and doom however as driving in Malaysia can still be a rewarding experience and below are a few tips to make it possible.

1. Road System
Being a former British colony, the roads in Malaysia are generally in good condition and driving from the north to the south of Peninsula Malaysia can be a smooth experience. The highways in Malaysia are well maintained, they have good rest areas along the way, and the ability to drive the length of Malaysia in less than a day is great. Both federal and state roads are managed effectively enough but do be aware that potholes are quite prevalent especially on roads that are used often like in the KL city centre and urban areas. To experience a different side of Malaysia, try and move from the highways to the old trunk roads that will bring you through small towns and villages. You can stop and experience local fruits and delicacies along the way.

2. Traffic Jams
As in any major metropolitan, traffic jams are a given and this is no different in Malaysia, especially in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysians spend an average of 53 minutes every day in traffic congestions and this results in a lot of loss in productivity. Car ownership in Malaysia is high, despite the high price of vehicles. The ability to get an incredibly long repayment terms for vehicle loans has resulted in a dramatic increase of cars in KL. It is advisable to use apps like Waze or Google Maps to determine the best time to leave to or from work if you do not wish to make a 15-minute journey turn into an hour’s worth. Do note that Malaysian drivers do not generally use their signal lights when changing lanes and this could result in accidents. Also, be aware of motorcycles that have the tendency to swerve in and out of traffic especially in traffic jams. The last thing to take note is that in traffic jams, conventional traffic rules rarely apply, with vehicles not giving the right of way, to motorists using the emergency lanes as an extended road.

3. Traffic Lights
Why am I writing about traffic lights, shouldn’t they be the same in all countries? Well on paper, the common traffic lights rules do apply but in Malaysia, there seems to be a lot of leeway provided by the motorists themselves. Don’t be surprised to find out that the “amber” light is not regarded as “get ready to stop”, but more as “go faster before the red light comes on!”. Be aware of motorcyclist that generally do not obey traffic lights and they seem to be colour-blind.

Despite the negatives of driving in Malaysia, it is still the best method of moving about and experiencing what Malaysia has in store. From the beautiful beaches of Terengganu to the paddy fields of Kedah, every part of Malaysia is easily accessible. As long as you apply defensive driving methods, you will be fine and have a smooth driving experience. Be aware of your surroundings, think ahead, and keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road on at all times.