New EU rules, which were rubber-stamped just recently, will require that convicted drink-drivers would have to fit a breathalyser device in their cars if they take to the road again.

This is just one of many other vehicle safety standards which the EU intends to implement over the next few years in its quest to lower the fatalities on the European network as a result of drink driving.

Those who have been found to be driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol would be required to fit a device and blow into it before starting the engine. The device will only allow the engine to start up if the alcohol limit has not been exceeded.

This new legislation is expected to be implemented as from 2022 for all new vehicle models and from 2024 for cars with existing designs.

The Malta Insurance Association (MIA) welcomes this news as an innovative measure that makes the best use of technology in the interest of road safety.

Those attending the MIA conference about drink- and drug-driving last April will have already heard about the amendments to the law that the MIA is proposing, which include this and other similar measures.

Known as ‘alcohol interlocks’ or ‘alcolocks’, these devices would do what their name implies, that is disable the car before starting unless a clean breath sample is provided by blowing into it.

These new rules would require that such breathalysers are fitted as standard in new models launched from 2022, whereas existing models sold after May 2024 will have to be updated to include new features. Most importantly, the device is meant to notify the police when alcohol limits have been exceeded or when the device has been tampered with.

Critics of such measures would complain about their efficacy and whether authorities are unjustifiably meddling with our private lives by requiring such drastic changes. Road safety, though, cannot be left to pure chance, and where enforcement lacks, technology can step in and deliver results.

Apart from active and passive safety measures that have become the norm in today’s vehicles, it is now time for action to be taken if we wish to take road safety seriously. 

As a regular contributor on this subject, the MIA has for long been lobbying for tough action to be taken if the menace of drink- (and drug-) driving is to be removed, or at least reduced, from our roads.

We have complained incessantly about the lack of sufficient enforcement the deficiencies in the law when dealing with drink and drug driving and the lack of resources available to the police.

This is definitely a step in the right direction, and we hope that a similar approach awaits drug-driving too.

Such practices are in use in countries which are considered to be far ahead of us in these areas and to a certain extent even ahead of the more advanced EU member states. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand have long adopted a no-nonsense and zero-tolerance approach towards road safety, which may be considered as extreme by our standards, but has ultimately proven very effective for them.

One of the speakers at the April conference shared his experiences in the Australian continent and their practices in the fight against drink- and drug- driving, with one such measure being in fact the same one just adopted by the EU. Driving under the influence is only one of the menaces we regularly encounter on our roads.

Another is over-speeding, for which the EU has also issued a separate set of rules aimed at introducing speed limiters in vehicles. Another challenge soon to be tackled is the use of technology to reduce or even eliminate the risk of accidents caused by driver distraction.

Although technology is already available both for detecting driver fatigue and distraction through the use of mobile phones, the latter has not as yet benefited from a sign-off from regulatory authorities.

The technology available for deterring phone use while driving ranges from (mobile phone) signal jammers, already tested by one large Japanese carmaker, to mobile phone apps which disable the phone’s signal while the vehicle is being driven.

Upholding and safeguarding road safety for all road users ultimately requires a concerted and committed effort by all stakeholders and authorities alike. Road fatalities should not remain merely a statistic, but a real reminder that firm and decisive action is needed, sooner rather than later.

Adrian Galea is director general of the Malta Insurance Association.

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