Recently, two viral videos showing a Mat Rempit performing the “superman” stunt while approaching a traffic light at high speed along the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway in Penang had been making the rounds on social media.
Unfortunately, the biker performing the stunt, Muhammad Akid Mat Rozi, from Permatang Timbul, Balik Pulau, failed to see a car making a turn in the opposite direction. Unable to decelerate and halt, Muhammad collided with the car and died on the spot.
This incident, along with others in recent years, brought the Mat Rempit subculture to our attention once again.
While some admire their daring, others regard Mat Rempits as a public nuisance at best. But how and why do people become Mat Rempits? And what laws discourage this subculture from becoming a danger?
What is Mat Rempit?
Mat Rempit is a Malaysian terminology for “an individual who participates in activities such as illegal street racing, bike stunt performance, petty crime and public disturbance using a motorcycle”. In other words, an illegal street racer.
The term ‘Mat Rempit’ is coined from ‘Mat’ which is a Malay term that refers to a male person or persons. It also refers to ‘Rempit’ which refers to the activity of driving a motorcycle in a fast and reckless way, breaking the rules of the road.
Those involved in Mat Rempit culture participate in street racing, an activity illegal in most countries, Malaysia included. Even watching a street race can get you into trouble.
As stated above, those involved in Mat Rempit culture participate in street racing, an activity that is considered illegal in most countries, Malaysia included. Even watching a street race can get you in trouble.
Besides the “superman” stunt, Mat Rempits are also known for performing “cilok”, a type of racing in which racers weave in-between moving and stationary traffic at high-speed. They usually move in large groups and sometimes raid isolated petrol stations. Sometimes they can cordon off normal traffic flow to allow their friends to race along a predetermined circuit. Many Mat Rempits can be distinguished by their over-modified vehicles which do not follow road regulations in Malaysia.
Are Mat Rempits Dangerous?
The common perception would be “yes”.
Motorbike stunts are not for the untrained. As the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway demonstrates, illegal stunt racing is dangerous for both the biker and anyone else on the road.
The recent case is not the only incident in Penang of Mat Rempits meeting their end on the Lim Chong Eu Expressway; in July 2022, four men died after a street race on the Lim Chong Eu Expressway turned into a deadly early-morning pile-up. The accident happened when the victims lost control and crashed into each other. During the incident, two cars were hit from behind by the victims.
…seven victims have been identified as involved in the accident. Four people were confirmed dead; three victims died at the scene while one died at the Penang Hospital. – Assistant Commissioner Soffian Santong on the overall casualties
Worse is when Mat Rempits become a danger not just to themselves but to everyone around them. The subculture has been associated with gangsterism, gang robbery, involved in fights, vandalism, theft, bullying, killing, rape, free sex, and the use of alcohol and drugs.
April of this year saw just how violent Mat Rempits can become. A group of four were arrested for alleged rioting and assaulting a policeman carrying out his duties during Ops Selamat at Km 7, Jalan Kulai-Kota Tinggi on Sunday.
The policeman alleged he was assaulted by a group of motorcyclists while on Ops Selamat duty. Based on initial investigations, the four men, who are all locals, admitted to being involved in rioting and illegal racing. – Kulai police chief Tok Beng Yeow
Revving Into The Wild Side
Besides being a danger on the road, Mat Rempits will also cause other inconveniences such as disturbing the peace with loud noises. They will also block the highways in order to avoid tolls or police traffic stops.
Such was the case in 2017 when a woman’s dash-cam captured the lawless behaviour of a group of Mat Rempits racing on the highway one evening and causing road users huge inconvenience as they blocked off the toll booth.
When the video went viral on social media, netizens were furious and voiced their own negative experiences with Mat Rempits.
“This is only in the evening. You haven’t seen the race at night. Once, I saw a group of them coming towards me against the traffic on the highway. Can you imagine how scary was that?” said a netizen.
“Are the police and JPJ going to do anything about it? The same thing happen every weekend at Sungai Besi toll at night. The Mat Rempit will line up in front of the toll booths while ignoring and blocking incoming cars,” another netizen commented.
Reasons For Becoming A Mat Rempit
Many Mat Rempits were either teenagers or teens when they first entered the world of illegal street racing. And many of these teens came from broken families with their parents fighting almost all the time. Such a toxic background caused these teens to seek attention elsewhere outside of their homes.
And being so young and impressionable, it should be no surprise that these teenagers will become curious about the Mat Rempit lifestyle. And without any boundaries set or attention from their parents, these teens will cave into the influence and pressure of Mat Rempits themselves.
In fact, a three–year study found that peer pressure is one of the most common reasons why teens become Mat Rempits. Over 300 youths were interviewed in a study conducted by Seri Alam deputy OCPD Deputy Supt Dr Mohd Roslan Mohd Tahir who engaged in typical Mat Rempit activities such as late-night/early-morning bike racing on highways, performing dangerous stunts on their bikes, and in general being an annoyance and a danger to other road users.
Through my interviews, I found that these youths chose to do so because of peer influence. – Seri Alam deputy OCPD Deputy Supt Dr Mohd Roslan Mohd Tahir
Mohd Tahir said that the interviewees were aged between 12 and 27 years old. A majority of them started racing illegally when they were still in school.
The fact that so many Mat Rempits are in their teens has been concurred by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia psychology expert Associate Professor Dr Rozmi Ismail.
Prof Dr Rozmi found that most Mat Rempit are between 15 and 17 years old, many school dropouts. Many of them work as dispatch riders, factory workers and burger sellers during the day. Off the job, however, they become completely different people.
They are looking for fun, they are sensation seekers. They want the thrill and to feel excited.
Riding a motorbike is the cheapest way for them to do this. If you have RM10 or RM5, you can go round town for the whole night. They can’t go to a hotel lounge or disco. For them, riding with their friends is cheap and fun, fun which they create themselves. – Associate Professor Dr Rozmi Ismail, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia psychology expert
Ismail’s words were echoed by an actual Mat Rempit: courier Amir Fairuz. He said, “It’s exhilarating to race down a road. All I need is just a few Ringgit for fuel and I can have the time of my life.”
Illegal street racing is also a lucrative business, especially for those down on luck. Racers can earn up to RM 5,000 per race with one Mat Rempit known only as Halim, 26, saying that he could earn up to RM 6,000 a month by racing on the streets of Kota Baru, Kelantan, every weekend.
The races are usually held at Jalan Padang Kala and the winnings can go as high as RM50,000. This would then be split between mechanics, jockeys and bike owners. – Halim, Mat Rempit
The Law Against Mat Rempits
Malaysian authorities have been trying to stamp out Mat Rempit culture. The Transport Ministry had been looking to impose harsher penalties on Mat Rempits involved in illegal street racing and other illicit activities. This was done through an amendment to Section 42 of the Road Transport Act 1987.
These new amendments seek to raise the minimum fine for these offenders from RM300 to between RM5,000 and RM10,000. The updated laws not only target the Mat Rempits directly but also aim to hold parents who permit their underage children to engage in illicit racing endeavours accountable. The same will apply to spectators as well.
The Ministry of Transport has held discussions with several government agencies including the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), the Road Transport Department (RTD) and the Malaysian Road Safety Research Institute (MIROS) to deal with the problem of Mat Rempit which is becoming more prevalent now. As for the short-term measures, RTD together with the PDRM will continue operations at the location of illegal races using some new strategies. – Datuk Isham Ishak, Transport Ministry secretary-general
Former Transport Ministry secretary-general Datuk Isham Ishak also said that authorities will use cameras to record Mat Rempits’ actions before taking action by detaining them at home or workplace premises to face legal action.
Previously, the police and members of the Road Transport Department (JPJ) would be in the field to carry out ‘ambush attacks’ against those involved in such activities, but the method was seen as dangerous to law enforcement officers and those in nearby locations. So we take a defensive approach, which is to use cameras to see and obtain pictures of the Mat Rempits involved. After that, the police will arrest them either at home or at their workplace. – Datuk Isham Ishak, Transport Ministry secretary-general
Despite these efforts, the number of Mat Rempits did not decrease over the years. In Sabah, specifically, police have noted that three busy stretches in Kota Kinabalu have seen a resurgence in Mat Rempit activities, causing much disturbance among the public.
Sabah Deputy Police Chief Deputy Comm Datuk Jauteh Dikun explained that personnel from both the Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department (JSPT) at the state contingent and Kota Kinabalu police headquarters have mounted a series of roadblocks in three areas since last year.
But the activities still persisted especially when traffic officers and personnel had to be deployed for other tasks, resulting in their non-presence there. As a result, the Mat Rempit activities came back. So, the Sabah police contingent will ensure continuous operations will be implemented at the stretches. – Sabah Deputy Police Chief Deputy Comm Datuk Jauteh Dikun
According to Dr Rozmi, there were 200,000 Mat Rempits nationwide in 2007; now as they say – “you do the maths”.
Setting Outlaws On The Path Of Redemption
Perhaps instead of punishing Mat Rempits for their wrong-doings, we should start recruiting them into honest jobs that can use their skills.
That was the intention behind an ambitious plan to recruit Mat Rempit as part of motorcycle ambulance teams. MP Kol (PA) Mike Thein, who chairs Melaka Civil Defence Force’s (CDF) Associate Corporate Officers, said a working paper was being prepared so that these motorcycle groups could serve the community.
Training will be provided for these motorcyclists to perform basic Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and life support skills as well as delivery of food to flood victims before the full-fledged team arrives at an emergency scene. – Mike Thein, chairman of Melaka Civil Defence Force’s (CDF) Associate Corporate Officers
Thein, who has been a volunteer with CDF for two decades, said he would also unveil two-wheeler emergency services that are hard-to-reach tourist destinations in the city. These two-wheeler paramedic teams, he said, would carry life-saving equipment and first-aid kits and respond to a medical emergency much faster than a car or van in heavy traffic.
The “Mat Rempit” would act as a reinforcement for two-wheeler paramedics.
I intend to provide an opportunity to the group in turning them into volunteers for a noble cause and proposed this detail in my working paper. – Mike Thein, chairman of Melaka Civil Defence Force’s (CDF) Associate Corporate Officers
Thein said that this two-wheeler team (a mix of motorcycle and bicycle) system would reduce response times in busy stretches and flood-hit areas and ensure swifter responses in situations at tourist spots and there would be six volunteers in each team.
Mat Rempits continue to be seen as a public nuisance at a minimum and criminal at worst. But without many opportunities for low-income teenagers to improve themselves or earn an honest living, more and more of them will find the thrilling life of an illegal street racer more appealing.
This is an opportunity for their motorcycle skills to contribute to society rather than cause disruption. Instead of resorting to harsh punishment, this initiative will provide them with a fresh lease on life, transforming them into valuable members of our community.
Perhaps only then can we truly end Mat Rempits’ dangers to themselves and others.
Explore our sources:
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- Masalah Remaja. Link.
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- Bernama. (2023). 4 Mat Rempit who beat up cop in Johor arrested. FMT. Link.
- L. Kwan. (2017). Malaysian Driver Shares Infuriating Moment Mat Rempits Cause Problems By Blocking Toll Booth. World of Buzz. Link.
- D.J. Wong. (2022). The reason Malaysian kids become ‘Mat Rempits’ is peer pressure, study says. Mashable. Link.
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- Mat rempit want winnings in cash, not women. The Star. Link.
- P. Eu Jin. (2022). Gov’t looking to impose heavier penalties on Mat Rempit – max RM10k fine, jail time, higher insurance. paultan.org. Link.
- Bernama. (2022). Transport Ministry: Harsher punishment for ‘mat rempit’ with Road Transport Act amendment. Malay Mail. Link.
- D.R. Fong. (2023). Sabah police determined to nip resurgence of Mat Rempit culture in KK. The Star. Link.
- H. Azizan. (2017). Mat Rempit in training. The Star. Link.
- R. Murali. (2023). ‘Superman’ to the rescue? Mat Rempit being considered for Melaka motorcycle ambulance team. The Star. Link.