Impatience and indiscipline on Malta’s roads is leading to more deaths: ‘People need to start listening,’ experts plead
It always takes a loss of life for attention to be shifted onto the safety of Malta’s roads. The focus becomes the life that has been lost, the family that has been bereaved and the sad realisation that the accident could have been avoided.
What is even sadder is the acceptance of Malta’s roads being rendered unsafe due to the way that drivers drive: sometimes it’s the drivers of heavy vehicles who are accused of driving as if “they own the road”, other times the blame falls on young drivers and their speeding; at other times it’s the older drivers “whose slow driving drives other people mad”.
But ultimately, it’s every single driver who refuses to listen and to care that is to blame.
Whilst there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the accidents, during summer, people stay out longer, there are more parties, more alcohol is consumed and more drugs are around, the consultant at Mater Dei’s accident and emergency department, Jonathan Joslin, told MaltaToday.
“Especially in early morning accidents, we’re seeing the contribution of cocaine, heroine and synthetic marijuana. The use of mobile phones is still a major issue and texting is a phenomenon that just keeps growing.”
Sounding almost frustrated, Joslin told MaltaToday that despite the fatalities, no one seems to be listening. “The ones who are dying are young. How many more educational campaigns can be done? It’s down to the people who need to start listening. People must understand that their actions have consequences.”
Whilst data released by the National Statistics Office confirms an increase in both the number of cars and, separately, the increase in traffic accidents, experts agree that indiscipline is one of the major causes of road accidents.
“Malta is a small country, with a big heart but we’re undisciplined and selfish,” former Assistant Police Commissioner Josie Brincat candidly told MaltaToday.
“Drivers are arrogant and over speed: the impact of over speeding is evident from the injuries sustained. If one is careless, but driving within limits, the injuries sustained will not be as grievous as when one is speeding.”
Similarly, Adrian Galea – president of the Malta Insurance Association and member of the Malta Road Safety Council – argued that whilst, on average, Maltese drivers are good drivers, yet behaviour on the road could be erratic, or inconsistent at best.
Galea draws comparison between student drivers, and licensed drivers: “We do know what is required to drive well. However, the sad reality is that we couldn’t be bothered. Some may attribute this to a ‘Mediterranean culture’, in that given the chance, ‘I’ll break the law’.”
According to Galea, Nordic countries are the example to follow, where discipline “reigns supreme”.
“Discipline is good for the roads, because you don’t have to guess whether the other driver is going to obey a stop sign or a red light or going to give way at a roundabout; whether one is going to overtake even if road markings prohibit it,” Galea added.
The second-guessing is rendering Malta’s driving patterns, and traffic in general, chaotic simply because of lack of discipline, he said.
Brincat, considered one of Malta’s top traffic experts, insisted with MaltaToday that there were four key principles in tackling the increase in traffic accidents: road infrastructure, education, enforcement and deterrents.
“Educational campaigns should be all year round and not just during Christmas or summer time: unfortunately, a lot of campaigns are done in hiccups but they need to be ongoing and consistent. This educational drive needs to be at all levels – including at primary schools,” Brincat said.
The Road Safety Council, Galea confirmed, is touring most schools and dishing out tips to encourage road safety.
He also argued that the presence of enforcement officers – be it police officers, Transport Malta officials or wardens – needs to be seen and felt.
“What’s the point of someone simply receiving a fine for texting while driving, when the officer could have actually stopped the driver and informed him of the consequences of his actions? Fines need to act as a deterrent as well.”
For Brincat, enforcement officers need to stay alert all the time for all offences – no matter how big or small they might be.
Impatience is a main contributing factor to driving indiscipline. “If we decide to jump the queue, or decide to switch lanes at the last second, such behaviour is bound to cause accidents and slow traffic down,” Galea told MaltaToday.
He went on to add that driving distraction is often overlooked: “Driving distraction comes not only in form of texting, but also in smoking, eating or drinking and applying makeup.”
Galea admitted that whilst fines have been revised, drivers have not been deterred from taking the risk.
Like Brincat, Galea proposed education and sanctions to deal with the problem. “Educating the younger generation increases the chances of developing better drivers tomorrow and correcting the habits of their parents.”
Whilst the Road Safety Council has launched several campaigns for the more experienced drivers, Galea argued that drivers themselves could contribute as well.
“Why should we exceed a 60Km or 50Km speed limit just because there are no cameras? Does it ever occur to us, that people could be crossing or that the roads may be slippery?”
But education alone is not enough: “Malta is still one of the few countries where penalty points apply solely to probationary drivers. A strong deterrent is needed on our roads, and this should be a mix of hefty financial penalties (fines) and penalty points accumulated on a driving licence – risking revocation of a licence.”
Responsibility comes in different ways and forms, and may not only be limited to drivers: on his part, Brincat argued that adult pedestrians should always make sure that the children are walking on the pavement, away from the cars; passengers on the backseat – irrespective of their age – must always wear a seatbelt and children should be forbidden from sitting in the middle.
If a driver notices a rental car in front of him, or a foreign number plate, he must be aware that the driver of that car could be a foreigner and not used to Malta’s road system.
Brincat insisted that, by law, anyone sitting on the backseat must wear a seatbelt.
For sanctions to be applied fairly and uniformly, Galea proposed the use of mobile speed cameras.