Yet another campaign to discourage drink-driving has been launched. However welcome such campaigns may be, many are right to ask whether initiatives that lack biting tactics to curb drink-driving are really effective.
According to Transport Minister Joe Mizzi fatal traffic accidents are still on the increase. With drink-driving being the cause of 13 per cent of all driving fatalities in 2012, those behind such campaigns need to ask whether the measures implemented to reduce drink-driving incidents are giving the desired results.
The positive thing about our roads is that driving distances are invariably short. We also have no highways which give drivers the opportunity to speed.
But of course, this should in no way undermine the importance of steering away from drink driving.
Malta’s blood alcohol limits for driving are the highest in the EU. At 80 mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, the limit in Malta is equal to that of the UK but almost twice that of Italy, Belgium and Austria. An increasing number of countries are lowering the limits although some safety professionals argue that just doing so will not cut the number of fatalities significantly.
The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) made some very solid recommendations last year to help EU member states to get tough on drink-driving abuse. Its first recommendation is a zero tolerance policy on drink-driving.
A second recommendation by the ETSC is the intensification of law enforcement with clearly set targets. One minimum standard set in some countries is that one driver in five should be checked for alcohol abuse each year. This may initially sound draconian but effective law enforcement policies are one sure way of compliance. The experience with speed cameras has shown that vigilance by the enforcement authorities often gives better results than simple exhortations.
Another measure that should curb drink-driving is systematic breath–testing by police or traffic wardens when traffic accidents occur.
Today, it seems such tests are only done when there is a serious injury or when the police suspect a driver is under the influence of alcohol.
Recidivism in drink-driving needs to be addressed through the introduction of compulsory rehabilitation programmes for offenders.
This, combined with higher financial penalties and restrictions of driving, should bring home to repeated offenders the cost of putting at risk their own and other people’s lives.
Regular educational campaigns will always have a role in the prevention of drink-driving accidents. Strong visual images of the consequences of irresponsible drink-driving can drive the message home. Putting a billboard of a car smashed in a drink-driving accident in a focal point on a busy road can help to make irresponsible drivers realise the futility of taking risk with one’s own life and that of others.Urging people to drink less when they are stressed and intend to drive is good but is hardly going to address the drink-driving challenge.
The EU is considering putting some of the ETSC recommendations in a directive that will invariably put zero tolerance for drink-driving for commercial and novice drivers.
It would therefore be opportune to start drawing up a national enforcement plan to prepare motorists for the changes being considered by Brussels.
Meanwhile, police and wardens need to be more vigilant for other dangers which are increasingly more visible than drink driving drivers phoning and texting while driving!
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