Less than two per cent of drivers involved in serious accidents are being breathalysed, a study among insurers has revealed.
Carried out recently by the Malta Insurance Association among all its members, the study showed that the authorities breathalysed only a few of those involved in such accidents.
“While insurance companies are obliged at law to compensate third parties, they have to go through a lengthy court process to ascertain whether a drunk driver – hence driving illegally under the influence of alcohol – was to blame,” association head Adrian Galea said.
This newspaper sought the insurers’ views after data tabled in Parliament this week by Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia showed that in recent years, the number of motorists tested for alcohol remained relatively constant.
Last year, 165 drivers were tested, of which 106 were found to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
In the previous year, 155 drivers were breathalysed while in 2016, this figure stood at 241, the highest in four years. There were just 146 drivers tested for alcohol in 2015.
On these figures, the association head insisted that insurers remained sceptical, questioning whether promises by the authorities of efforts being stepped up were truly being kept.
“While it needs to be acknowledged that on-going, road-safety campaigns together with the introduction of the penalty points system may contribute to greater awareness, enforcement needs to be stepped up.
Two tests every five days considered way too low
“An average of 160 breathalyser tests per annum [between 2017 and 2018], or two tests every five days is considered, by any stretch of imagination, way too low, hence this degree of scepticism,” Mr Galea said.
Similar concerns had already been raised by the insurers earlier this year when it emerged that during the festive period, only five of the 558 drivers stopped on New Year’s Eve were given a breathalyser test.
By law, the police can only conduct such a test if they have reasonable suspicion that the driver had been drinking.
Apart from introducing mandatory breathalyser tests when there are serious accidents, insurers are also insisting on more random breath testing, especially in places where the police know that alcohol is being consumed in large quantities.
Such testing should also be stepped up at times when prevalence of drink-driving is high, Mr Galea went on.
“Regular, on-going presence on our roads sends a very strong message that drink-driving is not tolerated and that abusive, drunk drivers should not be behind the wheel,” he said.
The Malta Insurance Association head also reiterated concerns that apart from testing for alcohol, the police needed to also start checking for drivers under the influence of drugs, adding that the police needed to be in a position to do so and this required changes in legislation.
“The police need to be empowered, through changes in legislation, which needs to reflect and acknowledge this reality we now face and through better resources to help them cope with the call for better enforcement,” he said.