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More focus needed on road safety

What is happening on our roads? The news is replete with reports of drink driving, underage driving, maniacal driving, and plenty of crashes and collisions, some fatal and often involving pedestrians, motorbike riders or cyclists.

Last week a video went viral of a car flipping over after its driver attempted to muscle in onto a slip road. Luckily the driver emerged relatively unscathed. It could have been much worse for him, as it could so easily have been tragic for some innocent person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The indiscipline on our roads seems to be accelerating ahead and enforcement has no chance of catching up. But the situation calls for a severe crackdown on reckless and dangerous drivers.

Two examples of incidents far worse than the one above are worth recalling. Two months ago a traffic policeman was severely injured in a hit-and-run incident near Luqa. An underage driver has now been charged with his attempted murder. And a few days ago, a 20-year-old driver ploughed into a group of people in St Julian’s in the early hours of the morning. The driver was said to be four times over the drink limit. One of those who was injured, a 25-year-old Dutchman, died two days later. The driver has now been charged with causing his death and injuring another seven people.

The selfish, ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude that prevails among so many drivers, felt all the more acutely in this congested space of ours, has become a scourge, a growing danger to public health. We have come to the stage when a former assistant police commissioner is to be charged in relation to a drink-driving, hit-and-run incident. If a police officer feels he can – allegedly – break the law of the roads so blatantly, then no wonder so many other drivers feel they can put other people’s lives in danger with their gung-ho irresponsibility.

Indiscipline on the road may be put down to a combination of factors: perhaps it is partly due to parents not teaching their children sufficiently about the need for respect; perhaps the educational system has failed to properly instil civic values in schoolchildren. Some of it may be down to lack of public education about the need for drivers to behave prudently, the remote chance of getting caught if one doesn’t, and weak penalties if one does. Then there seems to be the mentality of ‘anything goes’ which has gained ground in Malta over recent years. That poisons all activities, including driving.

The time has come for the government to make road safety one of its main priorities. Too many people are being maimed for life or are losing their lives because drivers think it’s never going to happen to them.

Educational efforts on both school and country level should be strengthened, emphasising the need – as a matter of life or death – of strictly observing traffic rules. Schools could be made to instruct students in responsible driving as part of the national curriculum. And the government should consider making parents legally liable for underage drivers. The Church, trade unions, the business community, insurance companies, NGOs, political parties and civil society should do their own small part in encouraging safety on the road.

Campaigns are not enough unless accompanied by proper law enforcement and harsher penalties for dangerous-driving offences. We need more policemen on our roads and more breathalyser tests to be carried out on a regular basis, especially in entertainment areas such as Paceville. Drivers who are found to be over the alcohol limit should be fined and have their driving licence immediately suspended. Repeat offenders should be banned from driving for a very long time. Underage drivers should be severely fined and prevented from obtaining a driving licence for a period long enough to knock some sense into them.

A common criticism of the courts is that the judiciary is often too lenient when imposing sentences for deaths or serious injuries caused by reckless or drunk driving. The government ought to consider raising the penalties for such crimes, including mandatory prison sentences and a driving ban. It is unfortunate that the government has so far shown scant interest in reducing the number of cars on our roads; neither has it appeared to give sufficient consideration to the introduction of a modern, efficient, convenient mass transport system, such as tram or metro. It is belatedly recognising the potential of cycling (see article below).

Inevitably, however, as the number of cars increases to unsustainable, gridlock-inducing levels, it will have to change course; the sooner it realises this the better.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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