Carnage on our roads - Gordon Caruana Dingli
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Carnage on our roads - Gordon Caruana Dingli

I recently attended the World Health Organization’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2018, which had the theme ‘Roads with stories’.

There is no doubt that too many people, many of them young, die on our roads every year.

The statistics are numbing, almost 20 deaths every year plus countless minor and major injuries. But while we are all sorry when we hear about these accidents in the news, we quickly forget and there is not enough awareness of how serious the issue is. It is only when one hears the stories of people who are involved in these accidents and those that have lost relatives that one becomes aware of the tragedy of such accidents and the heartache they cause.

The WHO conference was very well organised and there were various expert speakers. There were also victims and relatives of victims who spoke and these made lasting impressions on the audience.

Faced with a national problem, action is taken when there is awareness and acceptance that there is an issue. The legislator enacts laws and then they are enforced and such enforcement is accepted or perhaps tolerated by the public.

As an example, there was a very strong reaction when terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers in the US on September 11, 2001. Countries across the world put in place wide-ranging security measures for all passengers travelling by air.

We already have robust legislation about drink-driving and distractions and speeding but enforcement is lacking

We all know how inconvenient it is to queue up for security at airports, we have to put fluids in plastic bags, take off our shoes, put our keys and phones in a tray and adopt strange postures as we are scanned. It makes the process of travelling longer, uncomfortable and more expensive. We accept the inconvenience because we feel it is right and it makes us feel safer and also because such measures are rigidly enforced.

I think the same applies to driving on our roads.

Vehicles are lethal weapons, weighing over a ton and able to travel at fast speeds. It is unacceptable for drivers not to be fully trained even to ensure they are in full control of their car, truck or motorcycle. The problem is multifaceted and there is a lot that can be done to improve the situation.

Education, especially from a young age, is crucial.

It is important to improve public transport to decrease car usage, to improve the road infrastructure and to provide high-quality post-crash medical care.

As the former Scuderia Ferrari CEO and current UN special envoy on road safety, Jean Todt, declared at the conference drivers have the responsibility to adhere to speed limits, wear safety belts and helmets, do not drink or text when behind the wheel and not to drive when tired. He also said it is important to have a government that is willing to address road safety.

In Malta, we already have robust legislation about drink-driving and distractions and speeding but enforcement is lacking.

People do not like being stopped and fined when driving their cars. They are not prepared to be inconvenienced because they do not feel the problem is big enough or that enforcement of the laws make a worthwhile contribution to avoiding road accidents.

Hearing people speak about relatives lost in car accidents is an important step in raising awareness of the carnage on our roads. There is need for a culture change where the public will understand the importance of enforcing regulations to stop the carnage on our roads and for the authorities to ensure everybody abides by driving regulations.

Doctors for Road Safety has the ambitious goal of decreasing injuries and deaths on the road in Malta to zero.

Gordon Caruana Dingli is vice president of Doctors for Road Safety.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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