The Malta Insurance Association has long been putting forward proposals as to what measures can be taken to improve road safety and reduce the number of road accidents, especially the serious ones that cause physical, emotional and financial damages that can last a lifetime.
It was therefore good to see that these topics are being raised in the ongoing debate in parliament about the increases in fines for traffic offences. This is but only one step in the right direction.
We have always stressed that while a stronger deterrent against driving carelessly is indeed raising the level of fines for traffic offences, we believe that the most pressing issues is the need for better enforcement of traffic regulations.
Only stricter enforcement is truly effective in deterring dangerous driving behaviour and thus reducing the risk of accidents. We need to see a comprehensive approach that combines education, enforcement and accountability.
One crucial step in this regard is the introduction of roadside drug tests which we have been calling for, for some time. These are necessary to detect drivers who are under the influence of drugs and therefore pose a risk to themselves and others. This risk has increased with the recent decriminalisation of the use of cannabis.
Similarly, we have been advocating for more random alcohol tests, which would help to identify drivers who are intoxicated and likely to cause accidents and have made proposals for the changes needed in the law to give more powers to the police or other officers, to conduct these tests with greater ease.
We also think that the law needs to be changed to make it mandatory for drivers involved in serious accidents or stopped when seen committing abusive behaviour on the road, to be tested for drug and alcohol use.
The risk to drivers and others has increased with the recent decriminalisation of the use of cannabis- Adrian Galea
It is important to stress the importance of adequate investment in training and in providing the necessary resources to the police, LESA community officers and Transport Malta enforcement officers. Unless they are provided with the skills and tools need to carry out their duties, any measures to improve the levels of enforcement will ultimately fail.
Joe Giglio, opposition spokesperson on home affairs, made an important proposal that penalties for driving offences should be linked to the severity of the injury and damage cause. We agree that this would indeed serve as a more effective deterrent, but there is a lot more that needs to be done.
For instance, we have suggested using penalty points on driving licences as a factor affecting the motor insurance premium paid, as happens in other countries like Ireland and the UK. This would surely help to incentivise safer driving behaviour by making it clear that reckless driving has financial consequences beyond just the immediate fine.
However. for this to work in an efficient manner and avoid the risk of non-disclosure, insurers need to be given access to the relevant database, within the current GDPR rules, so that the process can be automated.
Reform is also sorely needed in our Civil Code to establish clear rules on how compensation is calculated when a person dies or suffers permanent disability in a traffic accident. We strongly believe that this would help to make the process of seeking compensation more transparent and efficient, and it would ensure that injured parties receive fair, timely and adequate compensation for their losses.
We are aware that a report by an expert group had been drawn up on this reform that had been commissioned by the Minister of Justice of the time, Owen Bonnici. We urge the government to publish this report and commence a public consultation process as soon as possible.
The MIA has been long lobbying for changes to be made and measures taken and although the various ministers and MPs we have met with over the past years have generally been in agreement with us, we are yet to see serious action being taken.
We understand that road safety is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach to address and believe that better enforcement of traffic regulations, including roadside drug and alcohol tests, and greater penalties for dangerous driving, and utilising all other measures that can work as an effective deterrent, are all crucial steps that need to be taken to improve road safety.
By working together, insurers, policymakers and other stakeholders can help to make our roads safer for everyone. We have always been and still are available to provide any necessary support so that we can, as a country, address this issue in an effective and lasting way in order to save lives and avoid unnecessary expense.
Adrian Galea is the director general of the Malta Insurance Association