The Times of Malta editorial of February 9 was an eye-opener for all those who have road safety at heart. The Malta Insurance Association (MIA) has for long contributed to the debate on this issue, proposing ideas and making suggestions while also, directly or indirectly, funding some initiatives.
This subject deserves a lot more attention than it attracts. Sadly, recent experience has shown that words and gestures matter more than real action.
Regardless of our preferred mode of transport, all road users should take responsibility for upholding road safety, as we share the same road network.
Justified criticism has been growing about how this network is being extended at the expense of the little countryside left and about the inconveniences caused by road closures. The fact is, however, that until road users adopt alternative means of transport, it is the current road network that will allow us to travel from A to B.
We should therefore focus on protecting the most vulnerable road users and ensuring that rules and regulations are observed and properly enforced.
The UK authorities have just taken the bold decision of updating their Highway Code. One major innovation is the creation of a hierarchy of road users, which puts the most vulnerable at the top. This is in part a recognition of the way transportation has evolved in recent years.
As expected, pedestrians take the top spot with cyclists following in second place.
Some of these changes have attracted severe criticism. They were described as having been ill-thought-out and of possibly creating more confusion than clarity.
While insurers are mainly concerned with resolving fault in motor accidents and ensuring that fair compensation is paid – for which they are sometimes criticised – they believe that road safety is an important component of this process.
They see the need of real discipline among all road users when following the rules of the road, be they pedestrians, cyclists, eScooter- and motorcycle- riders, or motorists.
Motorists are not permitted to drive a vehicle unless in possession of a valid and proper driving licence, which they obtained after passing the driving test – which is no easy task.
There is no doubt that during the test, new drivers’ skills are at their best. On the day, it does not cross their mind to drink alcohol, overspeed, use their
mobile phone, cross red lights, or infringe other rules of the road. Yet, many of us see these offences happening every day on the road.
The introduction of a ‘demerit’ point system a few years ago gave insurers hope that the situation would improve dramatically, but unless enforcement is carried out and seen to be carried out, many drivers are still willing to take the risk. The MIA is firmly of the opinion that road safety can only be tackled seriously if a dedicated authority oversees the implementation of policies.
Road safety can no longer be tackled on a piecemeal basis, without proper coordination between all the authorities involved.
Road safety can only be tackled seriously if a dedicated authority oversees the implementation of policies- Adrian Galea
Sending out video messages appealing for respect of road rules and for drivers not to take risks in the festive season, and putting up the odd billboard, are far from enough. If we really intend to take road safety seriously in the interest of all road users, not just vulnerable ones, then the issue needs to be on the country’s radar screen 24/7.
What the MIA recommends is to follow the Irish model, where a road-safety authority is responsible for the entire process. This includes tuition of new drivers, driving tests, issuing and renewal of driving licences, enforcement of regulations, the demerit points system, and all other sanctions such as fines, licence suspension and rehabilitation.
What are the advantages of this approach?
First, it would reduce fragmentation. Having one authority focus on road safety would help to bring everything under one roof, providing an easy point of reference and easier access to information for road users.
How often do we find ourselves in a situation where the information is available but finding it proves difficult?
Having one authority would undoubtedly help to ease access to information for road users.
Secondly, road safety weaknesses would be tackled in a more proactive way. They would be investigated, modern technologies introduced, inspections and audits carried out, and rules enforced through the authority’s own officers.
Thirdly, such an authority would be autonomous and independent, able to stand on its own two feet, with its own resources and budgets and clear reporting lines. In addition, rather than its raison d’etre being limited in scope to an advisory role, it would be on a par with other authorities in road-safety matters.
A fourth advantage would be in education campaigns, where a road-safety authority would undoubtedly leave its mark. Education would focus on schools and road safety could become part of the curriculum.
Ongoing campaigns – which could be thematic or generic in nature – would reinforce the message through the various social media platforms, to reach every corner of society.
Lastly, statistics and data compilation. Among as an EU member state, Malta needs to regularly compile and report its statistics.
While Malta’s reporting has improved significantly over the years, we still lag behind other countries and do not yet meet all the requirements. While most of the information needed is gathered, its source is too fragmented to give it much meaning.
Having an information hub available will not only satisfy EU reporting requirements but also greatly aid in their interpretation, so that road users and insurers can take effective and focussed preventive measures, for instance by identifying and tackling accident black spots.
Investing in better resources aimed at educating the public and enforcing the law is not a waste of time or money.
Investing in a road-safety authority that can bring real change now will not only benefit future generations but will also send a strong message that this country means business where road safety is concerned.
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