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Malaysia - Driving

Driving in any foreign country is a daunting experience. Getting used to the road laws is one thing, getting used to the roads and other traffic is another. Here we look at some of the common driver-related issues that you may face and offer general guidelines on overcoming these issues. Malaysia has an extensive road network and all are well-maintained. The governing body for the management of roads is the Department of Road and Transport.

All traffic in Malaysia is required by law to drive on the left-hand side of the road. At roundabouts you must give way to the oncoming traffic approaching from the right. If you’re leaving a minor road onto a major road and you’re joining oncoming traffic, then you will be giving way to the right. Only proceed when you know you can do so.

Types of Roads in Malaysia

There are three types of major roads in Malaysia.

State Roads

These roads are single lane roads usually found on the outskirts of towns and in more rural areas. These roads can be treacherous in the rainy season and due care should be taken particularly at night as pot holes can cause punctures and in rural areas, these roads can be unlit. In less rural areas, state roads are similar to Federal Roads and have similar markings. Markings change as on State Roads when a change of state is made.

Federal Roads

Federal Roads are major roads in urban areas and have dual-lane carriageways which can on the approach to major cities extend to four lanes to cope with busy traffic. Federal Roads often connect with Expressway Roads and are often considered as Expressways when interconnecting with them.


Expressways are the Malaysian version of motorways and highways. These are considered high-speed roads which have two or three carriageways on either side. Layby areas are scattered along these roads and service stations for refueling are to be found on these roads. Service stations offer a range of facilities such as bathroom facilities, shops and ATM machines. There are emergency phone booths for the use of motorists who have broken down or need assistance from emergency services. There are tunnels on some Expressways and these tunnels have emergency exits.

Expressways are toll roads and have toll booths to make payment for using the roads. All toll booths are manned 24-hours daily. Tolls can be paid on a pay-as-you-go basis or if you’re a regular user, pre-paid vouchers with a bar-code for a swift exit from the toll booth are available.

The maximum speed limit on Expressways is 110 kilometers per hour. On Expressways in more urban areas, the maximum limit is 90 kilometers per hour.

State roads have a maximum speed limit of 90 kilometers per hour and in urban areas it drops to 60 kilometers. All speed limits are clearly displayed. Federal Roads have the same speed limits as Expressways but this is also reduced in urban areas. All roads are subject to variable speed limits, but the national speed limit is 110 kilometers per hour.

Road Signs

Road signs in Malaysia are similar to European road signs although there are a number of differences. There are green signs for Expressways and all road signs for other roads are in blue. Road signs are displayed in Malay although in major cities, English is used on road signs. The letter E signals an Expressway and Federal Roads use numbers and digits. For example, FT87 would indicate a Federal Road with the route number after the letters.

Warning signs are displayed with a yellow background and black diagrams which indicates hazardous areas ahead. Standard road signs are a white background with red detail and where pedestrians are frequent, these signs would be in a blue background with a white diagram of people. A speed limit sign is a white background featuring a circular rim in red and the speed limit is displayed in blue.

Traffic lights are the standard European colours of Red, amber and green. The sequence is as follows:

On red, the lights will change to amber with the red still illuminated, they both remain for a few seconds and then the lights change to green. Traffic lights that are indicating to traffic to stop will change from green to amber and then red.

Road standards on Expressways and Federal Roads are excellent and traffic moves quickly as some have four lanes. Speed limits are restrictive around urban areas. Rural roads and in forested areas are not maintained well at all and caution is advised on these roads.

In the Event of an Accident

If you’re in the unfortunate position of having a road traffic collision then the first thing to do is to check that all passengers of vehicles involved are breathing and safe. The next is to, where possible, try to get the cars away from oncoming and approaching traffic. The police must be called to take details of drivers and they will contact the emergency services if required.

Road traffic accidents in Malaysia are relatively high in comparison to the UK and the US. Figures are hard to source, but in 2009 there were over half a million car accidents in which the police attended to. Motorcycle and car collisions were a high percentage of these and police are looking to reduce this with a number of road safety campaigns to reduce numbers.

Road traffic offences come with tough penalties, with some resulting in prison. Fines for driving without insurance and tax can cost anything from 1000 RM upwards and/or a jail sentence. Driving under the influence of alcohol is not permitted at all and there is no legal limit. It is a 0% limit. Any alcohol reading will result in an offence and the withdrawal of a license. Front seatbelts are compulsory on all public roads.

Fuel costs in Malaysia are the eighth lowest in the world. The price of a liter of fuel varies on a regular basis. It is still, however, very cheap compared to the US and the UK.

Traffic alerts are often given out on English speaking radio stations. Traffic information websites are mostly in the English language.

Congestion and rush hours are early morning and evenings as people make their way into and from work in the major cities.

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