Three weeks ago, I penned an article on this newspaper entitled Cycling Down A Winding Path that mainly dealt with the relationships between motorists, cyclists and all road users.

This time round, I would like to take this whole transportation issue a little further, with all the encompassing topics.

I know you may be thinking I have just bought a new mountain bike or it is my first two weeks driving in Malta but this is not the case. What really made me ponder and delve deeper into this matter were the unfortunate incidents that occurred over the past weeks.

I believe that the culture and mentality of some motorists is the main issue.

There is an urgent need for a change in the mentality of motorists who generally disrespect cyclists sometimes to the extent that they regard them as second-class road users.

And, yet, this lack of respect and understanding for cyclists is also evident among motorists themselves.

In particular, there seems to be a notion that motorists with bigger vehicles command more respect.

We must start educating all motorists, perhaps even at driving licence test stage, of the dangers posed to all road users, particularly the most vulnerable road users, unprotected by an outside shield, who face a greater risk of injury in a collision.

We should also explore ways and means of putting this respect into practice.

The way forward is to put together a structured plan to make roads safer involving the authorities that should, first, listen carefully for as long as required to users of this type of transportation.

We must ensure that, at least, some areas are made favourable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle or hobby.

This could possibly entail the enactment of new legislation to protect joggers, runners, cyclists and indeed the whole spectrum of road users.

Then there is one other colossal issue. Drink driving.

While government campaigns have been driving the message that drink-driving is socially unacceptable, we know that drink driving is still a big issue.

We need more campaigns that stress the fact that it so much easier to have a fatal accident when under the influence of alcohol, backing this up with statistics. We need to be determined to get the message through to this reckless minority that their behaviour is putting lives in danger.

It is about time we start enforcing the legislation we have and it may also be required to bolster these laws with the ultimate aim of having a situation similar to that in many European countries, basically one in which it is just not socially acceptable to drive if one has consumed more than a unit of alcohol.

In Malta many trips made by car could easily be made on foot or by bike but these green modes of transport, though environmentally benevolent, are the ones most badly affected by cars.

The utopian dream of having a small green island with everyone walking or cycling to their destination is theoretically possible. However, pedestrian and bike lanes are lacking in our road network.

The local situation contrasts with the international scene where the use of bikes and the idea of travelling on foot for short distances is on the increase. Now, as discussed a couple of weeks ago, it is physically impossible to have such lanes in some parts of the road network. What we can do is try to introduce them in new capital projects. Structures planning for these modes of transport may provide a safer environment for road users as well as a renewed interest in leading healthier lifestyles. This may ultimately lead to a marked shift from the use of private vehicles to cycling and walking. This would be an immense step ahead in improving the quality of the environment.

Each driver is influenced by the collective behaviour of other drivers. At the same time, each driver is also part of this collective and, thus, influences others. So if there is a culture of bus drivers who stop to talk to each other in the middle of the road for a couple of minutes or a general notion that you can swear at other motorists on the road, you can imagine what a good example new drivers get.

Drivers are sensitive to the "culture of driving" and try to emulate it.

And the answer for this is education, at licensing stage and through public campaigns. Let us keep in mind that a small shift in the behaviour of a few might be amplified to a much larger effect, resulting in a changed traffic environment or a modified culture of driving.

Mr Casa is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us