Much has been said and written about the need for more law enforcement for safer roads. The Malta Insurance Association was, and continues to be, at the forefront in demanding better deterrence against abusive behaviour on our roads.
However, the progress we make will continue to be too slow if the studies conducted by the local authorities and the decisions required, some of which are down to basic common sense, take forever to materialise. We have been vociferous about this for far too long and time is certainly not on our side.
When considering deterrence, we need to start thinking outside the box and consider other practices that are used commonly in other countries. Aside from police and enforcement officers patrolling our roads, which is still sorely needed, especially for proper enforcement where drink and drug driving is concerned, using technology is probably the next best alternative to enforcement in person.
Evidence and research in many countries point towards the increased use of automated enforcement on road networks. If anything, the devices concerned would be available round the clock, come rain or shine.
Fixed-point speed cameras are, in my opinion, a thing of the past. Everyone knows where they are, we all know what to do not to get caught by them in order to avoid a fine and a few additional points on our driving licence.
Average speed cameras (ASCs) do the job where fixed point speed cameras fail. As the name itself implies, ASCs measure how long it takes for a vehicle to travel between point A (entry) and point B (exit). There is no fooling this camera unless you decide to stop for a coffee in between. The average distance between one camera and another is 200 metres, which means that there are ample stretches of road in Malta which could benefit from such systems.
The way these cameras function is very straightforward. Once a vehicle passes the first (entry point) camera, its number plate is recorded (as is the case with fixed point cameras) and when the same vehicle passes the second camera, the system records the time taken to travel between both points and calculates the average speed. If that average speed is higher than the road’s speed limit, then an offence is recorded.
Cameras can be placed at a short or long distance, alternatively one could have more than one pair of cameras if the stretch of road is long enough to take it. Keeping the distances between the cameras shorter (and this can be as short as 200 metres) would deter abusers from revving their engines once they go past any camera (as is normally the case with a fixed-point camera) as the average speed recorded would be high. However, speeding between entry and exit point will only make matters worse for the driver.
Evidence and research in many countries point towards the increased use of automated enforcement on road networks- Adrian Galea
Let us take a practical example. If two cameras are placed in a road where speed is limited to 60 km/h, then it should only take 12 seconds for a vehicle to pass both cameras. Anything less than that and it registers as a speeding offence. If the distance between both cameras was longer, say 500 metres, then it should take a driver 30 seconds to pass both cameras. Needless to say, the distance between one camera and another may vary as, ultimately, it is still the average speed between entry and exit that matters. This is surely a simple but effective solution to calm traffic over a long stretch of road and not upon approach a fixed-point camera only.
While fixed point cameras still retain some degree of importance, they are much more effective in forcing traffic to slow down when approaching key or hazard sites such as schools or sharp bends in the road.
The use of such camera technology remains quite extensive and technology has improved their capabilities.
Several counties in the UK have started trials on using cameras that can detect if any of the front row occupants are not wearing seat belts and whether a driver is using a mobile phone. Some can also detect whether drivers have jumped a red light, all of which are, sadly, quite a common occurrence on our roads.
The number of cameras perched on high metal towers installed all around Malta’s roads is substantial and impressive. One can say that our roads are well monitored but what really matters is that any abusive practices are tackled immediately without delay.
While the recent increase in fines announced by Transport Malta is a welcome development, these would have little deterrent value without proper enforcement. We need systems to ensure that those who abuse actually feel the pinch of these increased fines. Resources are finite and, though the presence of enforcement officers on roads is necessary, automated (clever) enforcement can, undoubtedly, be an effective additional measure.
We need to understand that we must do all that is possible to save lives and make our roads safer.
Adrian Galea is director general of the Malta Insurance Association.