The fact that according to official figures the number of cars on Malta’s roads stands at 310,409 is beyond doubt amasing considering the size of our population and of our country. Yet, according to a European Transport Council report released last June, the roads in Malta are the third safest in the EU.

Having said that, it needs to be always kept in mind that even if the risk of dying on Malta’s roads may statistically be slimmer than in other EU member states – in 2009 more than 35,000 people were killed in road accidents in the EU – every single traffic fatality on our roads remains one too many. Besides, the picture, of course, has an additional element.

There are also the people who get injured in traffic accidents. For instance, in the first eight months of this year, 174 people ended up at Mater Dei after being involved in traffic accidents, with the most vulnerable age group being that from 15 to 24 years, followed by those in the 25-34 age bracket.

The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution with the objective of halving, by 2020, the total number of road deaths in the EU when compared with 2010. It also called for further clear and measurable targets to be set during the same period.

The resolution is based on the Koch Report, an exercise containing a number of proposals, some of which could even be more pertinent to Malta’s continued efforts to tackle traffic headaches and improve on road safety.

The report suggests improving road users’ training and behaviour; harmonising and enforcing road traffic rules; making road transport infrastructure safer; putting safer vehicles on the road; using modern technologies for vehicles, infrastructure and the emergency services and protecting vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, pedestrians, road maintenance workers, cyclists, children, elderly people and those with disabilities.

The European Parliament’s resolution calls on the member states to implement certain measures. These include introducing speed limits of 30 kilometres per hour in residential areas and on all one-lane roads in urban areas that have no separate cycle lane, with a view to protecting vulnerable road users more effectively.

This proposal seems already to be gaining ground in Malta. An Attard local council member has presented for discussion a motion calling for the maximum speed limit in all the locality’s residential roads to be reduced to 30kph from the national limit of 40kph.

Proposals in favour of reduced urban speed limits are mainly based on the argument that lack of proper speed restrictions, rather than increased exposure to traffic, account for the excess injuries or deaths among pedestrians, especially children, in residential areas.

Considering that the problem of over-speeding is still a reality despite all the efforts to educate drivers and the measures introduced to date to manage the situation, maybe it is time to re-examine the issue on a national dimension and not just at locality level.

There are a number of factors that can and do contribute to road accidents. Some are beyond a motorist’s control – like, say, the state of roads or obstructions of various forms along the way – but most are the result of inexperience, incompetence, negligence and sheer arrogance. Education goes a long way in addressing the situation because that is what makes for responsible driving. But, then, society demands that the transport authorities and/or the courts deal with irresponsible elements sternly.

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