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Enforcement and road safety - Adrian Galea

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Now that the festive season is over, it appears to have been another period of relative calm on our roads during which thankfully no fatalities or serious injuries were recorded.

As a representative of the Insurance Association which is an active member of the Road Safety Council, I cannot but commend and thank the police, Local Enforcement System Agency (Lesa) and Transport Malta for their efforts in promoting road safety and safeguarding people’s lives at such a busy time of the year.

Zero fatalities should not just be a prerogative for our festive seasons, but together, we should place whatever resources are needed to ensure that such an objective is continuously reached.

An extension of the ‘points system’ to apply to all drivers was introduced just over a month ago, and initial statistics have now been published.

The association I represent had lobbied in favour of this extension since as far back as August 2016, as we believed that our roads need a strong deterrent against abusive driving.

The initial criticism that it attracted focused on the timing of its implementation, but is there any better time when this could be implemented? Measures aimed at enhancing road safety and discipline on our roads must surely rise above the needs of the business community and any commercial activity.

Driving for a living should, if anything, prove that one is experienced enough to set the right example. One could also argue that, stronger penalties should be applied in the case of experienced drivers who blatantly abuse of the rules. Those of us who drive abroad know all too well that irrespective of the vehicle driven, rules need to be observed and might is definitely not right.

If we start introducing exceptions as to who loses points and who does not, or discriminating between different types of drivers, we risk making a complete mockery of the rules we introduce. Like any other system, the points system may not be perfect, but solutions do exist that can improve it. It is certainly a step in the right direction and above all, proves that once there is a commitment, results will be attained.

Managing the flow of traffic is by no means an easy task and the ongoing debate about this topic is living proof of it.

There is no denying that the resources of the police are stretched while the road network is barely able to cope with the traffic. While the use of technology is already being resorted to, it needs to be explored further. We need innovative ways of ensuring that discipline and the rule of law reign supreme.

Transport Malta has been investing heavily in Intelligent Traffic Control systems so as to keep a watchful eye on our roads and promoting easier traffic flows. Representatives from the association had the opportunity of touring the new traffic control room which was only recently inaugurated.

Perhaps the time has come for the use of mobile speed cameras or systems that measure the average speed of a vehicle in a particular stretch of road

The increased use of dashboard cameras (‘dashcams’) can also contribute to combatting road abuse, while remaining with the limits set down by data protection laws. A good example of this was the recent case which ended up with the apprehension of a truck driver who was captured on camera speeding recklessly.

Our laws and regulations may therefore need to be carefully reviewed so that dashcam and bodycam images can be used as evidence in court, while always respecting privacy rules. As is the case in the UK, the public should also have an easy way to report road abuse, which can then be investigated by the authorities.

As an association we have, for instance, received reports of vehicles speeding early Sunday mornings on parts of the Coast Road and the Xemxija bypass. It is not clear if such reports were also made to the authorities and whether action was taken as a result.

Technology can also have its loopholes.  How often do we see drivers slowing down as they approach a speed camera only to pick up speed again a short while later?  Perhaps the time has come for the use of mobile speed cameras or systems that measure the average speed of a vehicle in a particular stretch of road. For enforcement to become effective, there needs to be a proper deterrent in place and responsible drivers can also do their part to deter abusive behaviour.

Many were surprised with the fact that the police reported that 1,800 had been stopped in road blocks during New Year’s Eve, and yet not one driver was found to be over the alcohol limit. It would have been better had the police also reported how many were actually subjected to a breathalyser test. It is very important that any communication given out to the public is well thought out if the right message is to be put across as otherwise the opposite can occur.

There is no doubt therefore that the increased presence of traffic police, traffic wardens and Transport Malta enforcement officers remains the best remedy to curb abuse. While we may have all the laws and directives in place, we still unfortunately find great difficulty in enforcing them properly. The MIA continues to also advocate the importance of applying breathalyser tests to all motorists involved in a serious traffic accident.

Let’s keep in mind that alcohol and/or drug abuse is not restricted to the festive season which has just ended. The MIA therefore favours an approach taken by Ireland where random breathalyzer tests may be conducted (by the policing authorities) at specific check points (and not in the middle of the road) without the need for a reasonable suspicion that alcohol may have been consumed.

Enforcement needs to be seen to be effective.

Adrian Galea is director general, Malta Insurance Association.

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