Driving in Malaysia


Driving in Malaysia



Rule of the Road

Traffic in Malaysia drives on the left side of the road, as it does in many Asian countries.



Statistics (year 2007 figures)


UK comparison

Annual fatalities



Registered motor vehicles



Motorisation rate, (motor vehicles / 1,000 population)



Fatality rate, (deaths / 10,000 motor vehicles)



Fatality risk, (road deaths / 100,000 population)



Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)



Fatalities / 1,000 km road



Road length, km



Paved roads, %



Road density, (road length km / land area km2)



Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)



Population density, (population / km2)





Statistics Summary

Malaysia is attempting to transit from the status of a developing country to a developed country. This nation already has a very high motorisation rate although only 45% of these are cars and 47% are motorcycles. The vehicle density is also very high, but the population density is relatively low. However, the fatality rate and risk remain relatively high. A significant number of the fatalities, 58%, relate to the high proportion of motorcycles and the low rate of helmet wearing.





Driving Environment

Malaysia has a hot wet tropical climate, with flat fertile coastal plains and forested hills. Roads across the plains tend to be flat and straight with wide verges, the mountain roads have been well engineered with very slight constant gradients.



Driver Behaviour.

Car drivers are generally well behaved, no honking of horns, and little rushing or racing except by the ubiquitous motorcycles. Drivers are generally courteous, although there is some tailgating. However, some drivers run through red traffic signals; beware when your light is green.

Very commonly motorcyclists run through red traffic signals anticipating the lights changing several seconds before they change to green, and many motorcyclists only stop for a red signal after the stop line, typically stopping on the zebra crossing making it difficult for pedestrians to cross at the junction. Motorcyclists commonly ride along the wrong side of the road, ride the wrong way along a one-way street or motorway shoulder, and commonly ride along the footpath. Motorcyclists also weave rapidly between lanes of either stationary or moving traffic, many wearing a helmet but not always fastened, and sometimes helmetless. Occasionally more than 2 persons are seen on a motorcycle, side-saddle riding is not permitted although observed.






Much of the vehicle stock is relatively new and mostly of smaller engined models. Taxis are typically middle aged saloons. Unlike many other Asian countries, tuk-tuks are not permitted. Many of the city buses are new, but with a few ancient privately owed buses. Many of the lorries arrear to be quite old. There is a very high proportion of motorcycles, mostly of smaller engine capacity, and some older models are still fitted with blade plates at the front; beware whilst you are a pedestrian. Motorcycle combinations (sidecars) are relatively common in some areas, typically used as a small commercial vehicle. Handcarts can still be seen in use in parts of several cities, especially around the older centres.

Although the steering wheel is on the right, the same as the UK, the direction indicator switch follows the Japanese preference of being on the right with the wiper switch on the left






Speed Limits.

Speed is measured in km/h. Signage displays in European numbers. Speed limits are signed quite well, the national maximum being 110 km/h (signed km/j), but not all minor roads appear to have signs placed. End of limit signs were observed without the previous limit being apparent. Police occasionally perform statically some radar speed enforcement on the major highways. Speed signs are often rounded to the nearest 5 as well as nearest 10, e.g. both 60 and 65 km/h are seen at different locations. Some places the limit may be higher than expected, e.g. 70 km/h through a market area.





Traffic Signals.

These typically display the short 3-part sequence: green > amber > red > green.

Typically the traffic signals have a very long phase time, up to 2 minutes per leg, to allow each queue to clear at each phase. However, many traffic signals incorporate a colour coordinated digital countdown system within each phase, counting down the remaining seconds before changing to red or to green.

Some pedestrian crossings also incorporate a countdown, and the pedestrian green man is animated displaying a symbol of a man with moving legs.





Road signs.

All regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, directional, and advice signs follow the ISO (European) system. European digits are used for all signs displaying numbers, e.g. speed limits, distances, parking time limits.

However, hazard signs are in the style of the USA system, i.e. yellow diamonds with a black symbol.

Direction signs all use the European alphabet and are easy to follow for any journey, although information signs, e.g. diversion and road works signs are written in Malay language using European letters, so although they are readable, they are not understandable to foreigners.

The highest quality of road is defined with green signs, with blue used for other main highways. Stop signs are easily recognised by shape, but display only the Malay word BERHENTI.  U turns are expected some places, and are signed appropriately, sometimes also with a road marking.

AWAS means caution or danger in Malaysia, and in several nearby countries.

Kilometre posts are frequently located confirming the road number and distances along major roads.

Road edges are commonly marked with retroreflective markers on posts, and where necessary along Armco barrier. Strangely these typically show the opposite colours to that expected, i.e. white retroreflectors are used on the left, and red for the right side of the road. Bridge parapets are commonly marked with red/white striped retroreflective signs.





Road markings.

Road markings are clear everywhere. Many ghost islands are also bounded with delineator poles to dissuade drivers from crossing these areas. Box junctions are used extensively within the cities, and are well respected. However, double white continuous lines are not so well respected. Where traffic may cross to a side-road the double white lines are double broken at that area.

Some single carriageway roads are widened to 4 lanes near junctions, where a right turn lane off a main road is marked, it is typically ended with a stop line to demand a stop before turning across other traffic. At other places the left lane may start or end with a lane gain or lane drop, in these areas traffic in lane 1 gives way to lane 2. In cities, traffic which emerges to turn right onto a dual carriageway has an acceleration lane adjacent to the central reservation, then traffic has to merge left at speed onto the carriageway.





Kerb markings.

In towns many road edges are painted with single or double yellow lines, having the usual meaning of no parking, but these are not well respected. Many kerbs near junctions are painted black/white, this appears to be for visual location only.




Roundabouts are common in some areas, marked and signed conventionally, and emerging traffic obeys the convention of giving way to circulating traffic.






Generally all junctions are marked, and most are well signed. Traffic signals are being introduced at busier junctions to control flows.



Pedestrian Crossings.

Zebra crossings are common in towns, marked conventionally, but drivers do not appear to see these or to give way to pedestrians. As a pedestrian, wait until the road is clear in both directions.



Railway Crossings.

Malaysia has an extensive rail network, some places with level crossings. These are mostly well signed.




The country is well served by an excellent highway network, extending through and around Kuala Lumpur to the north and south. Many main highways outside of the city are subject to a toll, but cost per distance is cheap. Some bridges also have a toll.





City Driving.

The road infrastructure is generally very good, one of the best in Asia. The road surface is in an excellent condition everywhere; no potholes were observed anywhere in Kuala Lumpur. Road edges and central reservations are maintained very clean and visually attractive, typically flower lined.

Roads around the cities are typically well marked, traffic flows well, although sometimes the lanes are rather narrow. Beware of the motorcyclists who may be travelling much faster than cars, overtaking on either side, and weaving wildly between lanes.

Kuala Lumpur is served with several excellent light-rail, LRT, monorail, and bus systems, all of which are clean, fast, and efficient, and help to keep congestion to a minimum. If travelling within the city public transport is certainly recommended. Many of these stations are typically overhead a major junction, giving convenience to commuters.





Rural Roads.

Rural roads tend to fall into 2 main categories.

Roads on the plains are typically flat, straight, wide, and with a shoulder of some sort. The road surface is in an excellent condition everywhere. Road verges are maintained clean and visually attractive.

Mountain roads tend to be of good quality, but tend to follow an almost constant elevation such that they zigzag endlessly along a contour, and even when climbing a mountain the gradient is shallow and constant, whilst following the folds of the mountain side. Mountain roads typically have a vertical rise and storm drain along one side, with a severe drop at the other side, and no verges. Beware of fallen trees across the road.





Night Driving.

Night driving is not recommended outside cities. Within Kuala Lumpur and other cities street lighting is good and night driving is relatively safe. Rural roads are generally well marked with retroreflective lines and other delineating reflectors. However, on all unlit roads speed must be kept sufficiently low, below 60 km/h to be able to see and react to vehicles without lights, wild animals, and in wooded areas - fallen trees, on the road.






Off-street parking is the norm, generally on-street parking is not permitted except in marked bays. Parking costs in various cities is relatively cheap.




Something to watch out for … Some minor roads have very deep storm drains very close to the road edge, don't drop a wheel into one.


©Keith Lane 2009