It was just 17-and-a-half hours into 2022, at 5.30pm on January 1, when Doris Micallef, an 80-year-old Ħamrun resident, was run over by an oncoming car.
She would succumb to her injuries that night.
Micallef was the first of 26 people who perished on Maltese roads in 2022, making last year the deadliest on record for traffic accidents.
Among the victims, 14 were pedestrians, one was driving a horse-drawn carriage and eight were motorcyclists, indicating that Maltese roads have become especially dangerous to vulnerable road users.
Roads especially dangerous to vulnerable road users
The government is now looking at ways to ensure the tragic toll is not repeated and has pledged several policy shifts intended to make roads safer.
Safer pedestrian and cycling routes and harsher penalties for dangerous driving are among the plans sketched out by Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia.
Spot checks for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs are also in the government’s road safety action plan announced in December. A road safety investigation bureau has also been proposed in a white paper which is up for consultation until February.
The bureau would allow the authorities to investigate traffic accidents with a view to informing policy on road safety.
A map of death
A 25-year-old activist, Paolo Cassar Manghi, has taken it upon himself to collect information on road deaths.
The architecture graduate and draughtsman started gathering the data five years ago and compiled it onto a master spreadsheet and map in March and April 2020, as the COVID pandemic gave him the time to do so.
Cassar Manghi has documented 226 road deaths since the start of this century.
His spreadsheet includes the names and ages of the victims, the mode of transport involved as well as news articles on the accidents.
Besides collecting useful data, he wants to make sure the victims are remembered.
“The victims are more than just a number on a statistic. We get an outcry (and not even always) on social media, RIPs and comments and a week later it’s all forgotten,” he said.
One of the road victims Cassar Manghi listed was an old classmate who was killed in an accident four years ago.
“I think it’s also important to locate where the accidents happen, for one’s own knowledge but also to identify hotspots.”
Fatalities are not just the result of crashes, he said.
“We need to look into what’s causing collisions to begin with.”
Human beings are prone to error so there needs to be a complete overhaul in how roads are designed to eliminate or decrease danger, he added.
Safer roads could be designed immediately by looking at what European cities have done to reduce road accidents.
“There’s nothing new to discover that other countries haven’t already,” Cassar Manghi said.
The ones left behind
Times of Malta spoke to several relatives of victims of road accidents in 2022.
Aldo Lombardi, husband of 45-year-old Marie Claire, who lost her life in a motorcycle accident, has been among the loudest voices for road safety reform.
Lombardi lost his “wife and best friend” when her motorcycle skidded on spilt olives.
He called for the causes of traffic accidents to be made public so society could learn from its past mistakes.
He also called for harsher traffic fines and for anyone caught repeatedly using a mobile phone while driving to lose their licence.
The partner of Jesús David Reina Quero spoke to Times of Malta in November as she waited over 18 hours at Mater Dei Hospital to identify her fiancé’s body.
He had been run over as he attempted to cross a Marsa road.
Maria Giraud already knew he was dead because she recognised his shoes in preliminary reports of the accident.
“I used to feel safe in Malta. I’m not talking about the accident. I’m talking about politics. Why do I have to wait too long to identify my fiancé’s body,” she had told Times of Malta.
The life of 51-year-old Antoine Degabriele was cut short in August, the victim of a hit-and-run incident.
The victim’s nephew spoke of a tragic irony: that Degabriele was afraid to drive despite having a licence.
Friends described him as a kind and creative person.