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Road safety truly matters

In the run-up to an election, it is not unusual to see the political parties promising the electorate all kinds of new initiatives that will improve their quality of life and put more money in their pockets. Not surprisingly, the parties steer clear of talking about issues that can have negative connotations, so talking about road safety and stricter enforcement of traffic rules is certainly not high on their agenda.

Motor insurers are, however, very interested in hearing about proposals targeted at alleviating the traffic situation, thus contributing to fewer accidents. Proposals were made to tackle mass transport, such as a rail system and underground tunnels, and, while such proposals are considered positive, they are in reality long-term measures that, ultimately, require a high degree of commitment, perseverance and not a small capital investment.

Unfortunately, we do not really excel here.

Road safety is an issue we face on a daily basis, and it requires commitment and a readiness to adopt measures that may be unpopular if seriously tackled.

Motor insurers believe there are other measures that can be taken in the short and medium term that can help improve the situation. The Malta Insurance Association strongly believes that road safety should remain a priority for the government, which needs to consider not only the cost in human lives but also the financial burden on the nation if not addressed properly.

Unfortunately, we only wake up to the problem when a sad reality hits us, and even then it is often a private initiative that tries to respond and react.

On May 11, the Tara Malou Licari Fund, in collaboration with Charmaine Gauci, Superintendent of Public Health at the Health Ministry, and other entities such as the Times of Malta, Corinthia Group of Companies and Malta Insurance Association invited the younger generation to attend a seminar ‘Slow down, save lives’ and hear about the perils that dangerous driving bring to our roads.

Three mothers, including Tara Licari’s, shared their experiences on the impact of a road fatality on a family and the lives it shatters.

Proposals for addressing road safety issues may not win votes, but they certainly save lives if properly implemented

They wanted to explain the horrific effect road fatalities have on those left to mourn for the rest of their lives even as they struggle to try to bring normality back. The message was loud and clear: lives are turned completely upside down when the unthinkable happens.

Road safety should not lose its place on the government’s agenda and should ideally find consensus among the political parties. Although over the last decade, we have seen some concrete measures and positive progress in this area, we must keep the momentum going.

It is a well-known fact that stronger enforcement of the rules is required on our roads.

My association has lobbied long and hard about this and has insisted that a better use of technology, especially to monitor speed, which is nowadays widely available, should be considered in addition to police presence.

The much-awaited and promised introduction of the penalty points system should be implemented without further delay.

We need to continue to equip police officers and traffic wardens with effective tools that deter irresponsible drivers from their current practices.

The concerted effort the Malta Road Safety Council initiated just under two years ago needs to progress further.

It is only through education and enforcement that we can effectively address road safety at all levels.

Countries like the UK and Ireland have progressed further and started to tackle road safety in a structured manner by setting up an independent authority with its own dedicated resources

Can we afford to wait any longer before the government seriously considers such action and raises road safety above the political agenda, sending a clear and unequivocal message that, after all, road safety matters?

The European Union aims to cut the number of traffic fatalities by 50 per cent by 2020, with more ambitious targets to follow. Fewer injuries and fatal accidents directly result in fewer people needing to use our already stretched emergency health services.

Economic losses through lower productivity, higher health costs and insurance claims could be minimised if we manage to tackle road safety issues effectively.

The setting up of a road safety authority will ensure a coordinated effort to make roads safer for all, be it motorists, passengers, cyclists, motorcyclists or pedestrians.

It will facilitate a streamlined and efficient approach in the administration of sanctions, fines and/or points, also enabling members of the public to have access to their own records.

The regulator will also oversee and update the (in-)formal training or tuition required when applying for a new driving licence or updating one’s driving skills.

The regulator’s remit should include compiling the relevant data and statistics to help analyse trends and interact with the rest of Europe (and beyond) to share information.

Finally, a Malta Road Safety Authority (the use of the acronym MRSA should be avoided for obvious reasons) would act as a reference point in all matters related to road safety, thus awarding it the importance it deserves.

Let us hope the political parties appreciate the value of including such an idea in their electoral manifestos.

Proposals for addressing road safety issues may not win votes, but they certainly save lives if properly implemented.

Adrian Galea is director general of the Malta Insurance Association.

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