Claire Bonello’s article entitled ‘The death of reasoned debate’ (January 2) could not have been any better. She commented that “government is not interested in dialogue” and that it “persisted in depicted this mad dash, new law frenzy as desperately needed”.
Even though a consultation process over the new cannabis law was launched, this ended up being more of a ‘tick-box’ exercise just to meet requirements. Several bodies and NGOs complained of the complete disregard of their comments and/or suggestions submitted during such consultation process. The questions that arise are many, but foremost of all is what was the reason behind such haste?
The Malta Insurance Association (MIA) was one of those who contributed to the consultation process and was one of those entities that expressed certain concerns. As representatives to insurance companies, we have very grave concerns about the state of play of enforcement on our roads. In addition, as employers, insurance companies would be equally concerned about the general health and safety of their employees.
Malta’s swift passing of the bill made it to the headlines of most international news portals, but such speed can really only be justified if the level of enforcement matches the policymakers’ eagerness. There is absolutely no shortage of laws in this country considered to be the smallest EU member state, but the lack of enforcement is endemic. To quote Bonello once again, “Enforcement is a dirty word”.
By passing this law, one could say that we managed to create another first in Europe, that of putting the cart before the horse. In so far as road safety goes, in some respects we still lag behind our European counterparts in ensuring that a robust enforcement system is in place before passing such laws. This topsy-turvy approach sends a warped message that it’s fine to consume drugs privately, but then stops short of spelling out that certain activities, such as driving, that may follow such consumption, are illegal.
It is very difficult to differentiate between law-abiding persons under the new cannabis law because those who do and those who do not consume cannabis and drive are both considered to be law-abiding. What’s stopping an individual using cannabis from taking the wheel – especially when the driving laws are still very weak at deterring drug-driving and the police (or any other policing authority) lack any equipment to test for drug presence?
There really is no difference between driving under the influence of drugs or not if personal consumption is condoned and we don’t have the means to test drivers. The need for drug-testing equipment is now, more than ever, a must and a necessity, given that the law allows the personal consumption of the drug.
What was the reason behind such haste?- Adrian Galea
This is the sequence followed by other EU countries. They first make sure that a proper and enforceable deterrent is in place; that the police forces are well trained to handle ‘intoxicated’ drivers driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs; that the police forces are well equipped; and investment in drink- and drug-testing equipment is never lacking.
It is safe to say that without MIA’s donation of 15 breathalyser kits five years ago, today we would probably be in a worse position as alcohol-testing equipment would be lacking too. Does it take a donation from an association such as the MIA to help keep our roads safer, or should the government invest proactively to uphold road safety?
Insurers need to be able to determine with certainty whether the driver was under the influence when an incident occurs. Uncertainty contributes only to delaying the claims-settling process. Nothing provides more certainty than the test result in a roadside checking for alcohol and/or drug presence while motorists are still at the wheel.
For the law prohibiting drink- or drug-driving to be enforced, then some form of checking should take place ‘at source’ as it benefits the victim through quicker resolution of claims and insurers alike.
When determining fault and the applicability of policy cover, knowing whether the driver was intoxicated or not is crucial. It is pertinent to remember that innocent victims are legally entitled to compensation even if the driver was intoxicated, their rights are in no way diminished.
However, it is only fair that those who drink- or drug-drive should also suffer the civil consequences of their action and not just the criminal ones, and they can find themselves having to reimburse their insurer for all the compensation that was paid out. The MIA has been lobbying for reform in our drink- and drug- driving laws for many years.
The irony of all this is that the basic rules for road safety that are taken for granted by other countries are compromised further. We limit ourselves at launching campaigns before Christmas as tradition may have it, urging the public not to drink and drive, which can be understood to imply, by default, that taking drugs and driving is not an issue.
Is the exclusion of the word ‘drug’ coincidental? Have we reduced drug-driving to a lesser evil than drink-driving by not mentioning it at all?
While the MIA continues to contribute actively as part of the Malta Road Safety Council, the latter’s role should be developed further and go beyond its advisory function. We need entities which are autonomous and properly resourced to take road safety where it deserves, high on the national agenda. We hope that 2022 will be the year of the much-anticipated changes.
Adrian Galea is director-general of the Malta Insurance Association.
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