Woman dies in Batam go-kart accident: Other S'poreans highlight circuit's lack of safety features

Andrew Wong and Zaihan Mohamed Yusof
The Straits Times
March 3, 2024

Karting enthusiasts who have frequented circuits in Batam say venues there lack basic safety features, such as proper track safety barriers and full-face helmets.

Mr Lai, who visited Golden City Go-Kart in Batam in 2019 with his family, claimed there was no safety briefing before the 15-minute ride.

The 41-year-old engineer, who declined to give his full name, said participants were given hairnets, and told to pick their helmets.

“We had to pick out helmets from a rack, but I could tell they were not proper helmets,” he said, adding that most lacked a face shield and were open-faced, which meant they lacked jaw protection.

“It was straight to the karts after. The only thing I remember was the staff telling us that the right pedal was for acceleration, and the left was for braking,” said Mr Lai, who contacted The Straits Times after a friend alerted him to news reports of an accident at Golden City Go-Kart on Feb 21, which claimed the life of Ms Arini Mohamed Adinan.

The Singaporean was killed the day after she turned 33, when her kart crashed at high speed into a barrier lined with tyres.

Mr Lai said he booked a pair of two-seater karts when he was at the circuit. His wife was in one with their son, then six, while he took the wheel of the second kart with his five-year-old son.

Despite the lack of a security briefing, he decided to go ahead with the ride as he had prior experience at other tracks.

After about 15 minutes on the track, they returned to the pit area. Mr Lai said that as his wife and six-year-old son were getting out of their kart, another kart crashed into them.

“I heard some screams from the crowd, and saw a kart coming into the pit area at high speed,” he said, adding that the driver did not appear to slow down.

The older boy was hurt and needed medical attention. As he was attending to his son’s bleeding and swollen leg, he overheard the driver of the other kart saying the brakes did not work.

“The operators took my son, wife and me to a nearby clinic on a motorbike. The clinic said we likely needed an X-ray, but they didn’t have the facilities, so they referred us to a hospital,” he said.

The X-ray was inconclusive, and the family made the decision to return to Singapore to seek further treatment. Mr Lai took his son to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital for treatment, and he was told there was no fracture.

“The doctor said we were quite fortunate. He told us that sometimes the bones in younger children have not fused together yet, which makes recovery easier.”

He said, in hindsight, he should not have gone ahead with the booking.

Mr Lai and his son at the Golden City Go Kart in Bengkong in December 2019. The 41-year-old said participants at the circuit were told to pick their helmets, most of which lacked a face shield. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MR LAI

Ms Arini’s friends, who were with her at the circuit in Batam, said their karts had issues.

Speaking with ST the day after the accident, the friends – identified only as Ms Karmeli, 27; Ms Zeth, in her 40s; and Ms Julie, in her 50s – said the brakes did not work, and they had to deliberately drive into a barrier to stop their karts.

Visitors to Golden City Go-Kart had highlighted similar issues on travel sites like Tripadvisor, with most citing the lack of safety briefings and karts with brakes that did not work.

ST attempted to contact Golden City Go-Kart, but the firm’s website had been taken offline. The Batam circuit did not list a phone number for customers to call.

Kranji track

There are three kart tracks in Singapore – KF1 Karting Circuit, The Karting Arena@Jurong and HyperDrive on Sentosa.

KF1 Karting project manager Daryl Chang said safety is a priority for operators in Singapore, which are bound by the Amusement Rides Safety Act as regulated by the Building and Construction Authority.

Under the law, karts must have a speed-limiting device, rollover protection and a seat belt.

At KF1, novice karts are limited to 30kmh, while advanced karts are limited to 50kmh. Only those with a driving licence can opt for the advanced karts at the circuit, which opened in Kranji in 2014.

Mr Chang said neglecting safety could result in injuries, and could lead to an investigation, a suspension or fine.

“Because of that, we are very ‘on’ with our safety procedures and (kart and track) maintenance,” said the 34-year-old, who added that drivers have to don full-face helmets and are not allowed to wear loose clothing.

Long hair must also be tied and covered with a hairnet.

Before patrons are allowed on the circuit, they must attend a five-minute safety briefing.

At KF1, circuit staff help patrons, who must be at least 140cm tall, put on their helmets and ensure that their long hair is tucked under the helmet. Patrons have to wear covered shoes.

Mr Chang said beginners use the heavier and less powerful, four-stroke fun kart, while being watched by five marshals on duty around the 960m-long track.

Mr Bernard Cheok, 54, said he visits kart circuits in Johor Bahru because they are cheaper and the karts are faster. There are about nine tracks in the city.

The business owner said he has not experienced a wide disparity in safety standards between Singapore and Johor Bahru.

“It was the same in terms of safety. They made sure we wore proper helmets, closed-toe shoes and gloves where necessary.”

Mr Cheok said all drivers had to sit through a safety briefing before being allowed on the track.

A spokesman for Racing Underdog (RUD) in Malaysia, which operates at four different locations, including at two circuits in Johor Bahru, said: “The customer’s safety is our top priority, so we have to follow all safety standards.”

Karts are equipped with full-body and fire-resistant engine covers. RUD Karting also provides full-face balaclavas to customers, along with full-face helmets and jackets.

The spokesman said Singaporeans make up around 60 per cent of its weekly bookings at the Medini circuit in Iskandar, Johor Bahru.

Safety features lacking

Mr Lai, who has visited several kart circuits in the region, said safety features were lacking at Golden City Go-Kart. For example, the karts were missing bumpers and covers for the oil tanks and engines.

At that point in time, he put the safety lapses down to a one-off incident.

“But now, looking back, I think if those lapses were fixed, my son’s accident and Ms Arini’s death could have maybe been prevented.”

He said his family visited a kart track in Penang in 2023, and found it well-organised.

“We had to sit through a safety video, and they taught us how to wear the helmets, what to observe in the pit area and what to observe on the track,” he said.

“They also had proper helmets, like motorcycle helmets. Before moving off, they did a brake test to see everything was working properly,” he added.

Senior technician M. Nizan and his family tried off-road karting at Batam Adventure Park over the Chinese New Year holidays in February.

The 52-year-old said participants were given a short safety briefing and later made to put on bicycle helmets, rubber boots and goggles, and plastic sheets on their bodies.

“Batam is blessed with space. We had a choice of doing ATV (all-terrain vehicle) riding, and track and off-road karting.

“It was cheaper compared with karting in Singapore. The tracks are usually empty on weekdays.”

A six-lap kart ride or a 15-minute ATV ride costs around $22, according to Batam Adventure Park’s website.

In Singapore, a 10-minute karting session costs between $18 and $22 for a novice during non-peak hours. The price goes up to $35 per 10-minute session for peak hours.

Mr Chang said proper full-face helmets should be the base requirement, unlike the bicycle helmets used at some kart circuits in Batam.

“The chin is not protected when wearing a bicycle helmet. Also, the impact a bicycle helmet can take is less than the impact a proper helmet can take,” he added.

He said accidents can happen, which is why staff are trained to provide first aid.

“As a patron or a parent (watching from the sidelines), you will feel assured with our safety measures if you look at how we run the circuit.”

“Incidents do happen, and we can’t run away from that,” said Mr Chang. “In terms of fatalities, there has not been any in KF1’s books in the last 10 years.”

The Straits Times

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