Safely behind the wheel
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Safely behind the wheel

Some may argue that the few people caught driving under the influence of alcohol during the festive season proved the success of awareness campaigns and more enforcement. Others would disagree and insist that, on the contrary, not enough is being done to ensure that whoever takes the wheel does so safely.

Calls for random and more frequent breathalyser tests are becoming louder. This would not only increase the possibility of netting irresponsible drivers but also serve as a preventive measure, especially over the weekends and on certain occasions when the consumption of alcohol is likely to increase.

Insurers are not at all happy with how drink driving is being tackled. Malta Insurance Association director general Adrian Galea went on record saying members were “rather sceptical that such a low number of people were tested and found to be over the limit”.

He noted that almost 1,000 cars were stopped in the nights before Christmas Day and New Year’s Day when three motorists were found to be over the limit. A year before, 1,832 vehicles had been checked and 11 drivers were found to be over the drinking limit, Mr Galea recalled, adding that alcohol limits had been lowered in 2017 and so one would have expected more drivers found to have exceed the alcohol consumption threshold.

Insurers are among those demanding random breathalyser tests as a matter of routine. They would like to see the introduction of tests after serious road accidents, which the National Alcohol Policy 2018-2023 also mentions.

Still, insurers point out that it is not only alcohol that impairs driving but also drugs, including strong prescription drugs even if very low doses are consumed. In fact, the law lays down that no person shall drive or attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle or other vehicle on a road or public place if s/he is “unfit” to drive through drink or drugs.

The law evidently needs to be updated, not only to remove the proviso that the police can only conduct a breathalyser test when they have a reasonable suspicion but also to use the more encompassing term ‘intoxicants’, rather than only refer to alcohol or drugs. The advent of synthetic drugs, which caused so many problems to prosecutors, certainly justifies such a move.

There is very little point having adequate laws that are not enforced but, likewise, it is futile employing enforcement agents who lack the ability and the means to do so. Police officers and wardens should, therefore, not only be empowered through updated laws but have all the necessary resources at their disposal and receive skills training regularly.

Ensuring adequate and, more importantly, reliable alternative means of transport and further promoting the ‘designated driver’ idea need to be part of the safe roads campaign.

But what is truly crucial is continuously educating all motorists to realise why it suits them and their families to be responsible drivers. Why one can still enjoy oneself without incurring any unnecessary risks associated with driving under the influence of any intoxicants, whatever they may be.

Responsible driving is about ensuring safety for all road users and that abusers carry the responsibility for their irresponsible actions. It is not fair that prudent and law-abiding motorists should pay for such behaviour through higher insurance premiums.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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