Last year 19 persons tragically lost their lives on our roads. Another 16 lives were lost to road traffic events up to the third quarter of this year.

Every person, young or old, passenger, driver or pedestrian, whose life was suddenly cut short or severely affected on our roads, is somebody’s child, parent, partner or friend with their own story. Every day, family and friends relive those days when they were suddenly robbed of their loved ones.

Each of these tragedies is one too many, be it in Malta or around the world, where 1.25 million people are killed every year.

Road traffic deaths and injuries are po­tentially avoidable. Most of these incidents are preventable. Every life is precious and we as government, society and individuals all have an important role in doing our ut­most to ensure that other families, like so many we know, are spared the unimaginable suffering of losing a loved one or living with the trauma and disability caused by these devastating and life-changing events.

Today is the World Day of Remembrance for Victims of Road Traffic Injuries (WDoR). Held on the third Sunday of November every year, 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of this important advocacy event.

WDoR provides a solemn opportunity to reflect on those who have been lost or irreversibly impacted by road trauma and to put the human side of road safety forward. A significant number of us have personally been touched by road trauma – to themselves, a family member, a friend, a loved one – and will therefore appreciate what this commemorative day means. With road traffic injuries being the second leading cause of death for those aged between five and 29 in Malta, it’s likely that local experience with road trauma is very real for the majority of Maltese.

On average, five people are injured on Malta’s roads every day

Organisations like the WHO, EU, OECD, the World Bank and UNECE recommend a ‘safe systems’ approach to road safety. Originating in European countries like Sweden and the Netherlands, this approach to road safety is founded on three key principles. The first is that human life is always the first priority. All decisions involving transportation and mobility should be viewed through this lens.

The second principle is that humans are fallible, we make mistakes. The safe systems approach accommodates for human error, so that such mistakes should never result in injury or death.

The third principle is that the human body is fragile. It can only take so much trauma before serious or fatal injury occurs. Injury-causing energy can be mini­mised through appropriate speed limits and through innovative design of road infrastructure and vehicle engineering.

Finally, and most importantly, road safety is a shared responsibility. Public perception may be that road safety is solely the responsibility of government and public agencies. This is true, but not to the exclusion of individual roles, responsibilities and behaviour. For each and every road user this primarily relates to respecting other road users and adhering to national road safety law such as those pertaining to speed, alcohol, drugs, mobile phone use and restraints. 

On average, five people are injured on Malta’s roads every day. To the survivors, to the family members grieving lost loved ones, we owe it in their memory, and also to ourselves, to do all we can to work together across government and the whole of society to support road safety and prevent further such tragedies on our roads.

The role of the health sector and public health approach as part of a whole-of-government approach to road safety will be discussed tomorrow at a conference called ‘Roads with Stories’ hosted in Malta by the World Health Organisation and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Ministry for Health.

The conference will see the participation of UN Special Envoy for Road Safety Jean Todt and is being held in collaboration with the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims (FEVR), Youths for Road Safety (YOURS), the Malta Road Safety Council, Doctors for Road Safety (DRS), the Malta Medical Students Association (MMSA), the Malta National Youth Council (KNZ) and National Youth Agency (AZ). It is being organised as part of the Biennial Collaborative Agreement (2018-2019) between the World Health Organisation and the Malta Ministry for Health.

The conference will be preceded by a public outreach event and remembrance walk in honour of WDoR and in support of road safety. This event will be held today at The Point, Tigné, Sliema, which the public is invited to attend.

Chris Fearne is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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