People are being encouraged to drive while drunk because random breathalyser tests are not being done and the police are advising traffic accident victims not to report intoxicated drivers, the Malta Insurance Association (MIA) has charged.
The association’s director general, Adrian Galea, called for the law to allow breathalyser tests to be carried out at random during spot-checks.
He also confirmed that insurance company clients were being told by police officers that if they reported the offender as being under the influence of alcohol, their insurance policy would not cover the damage.
“By their very actions, the police are, to a certain extent, aiding and abetting, or rather, encouraging, intoxicated drivers to take to the wheel,” he said.
It was already bad enough for the law to allow breathalyser tests to be done only if a police officer had a certain degree of suspicion, “but letting such intoxicated people off the hook with such misinformation and ignorance shows to what lows law enforcement has fallen to,” he said.
He added that contrary to what victims were being told, they were always compensated, irrespective of whether the perpetrator or the person causing the accident was sober, drunk or drugged.
'Third-party insurance protects victim'
Third-party insurance was there to protect the victim, even if the accident was caused by an intoxicated driver. The insurance company representing that intoxicated driver at fault is duty bound to compensate if compensation is due, he said.
He also stressed that the law needs to be strengthened to remove the subjectivity surrounding ‘reasonable suspicion’ regarding breath testing – motorists should be breathalysed in all serious incidents.
“The law needs to be specific in stating when breathalyser tests should be conducted. The clarity that such amendments would introduce minimises those incidences where the police officer needs to use his judgement on whether there is reasonable suspicion or not and carry out a breathalyser test as required at law.”
The implications of not carrying out breath tests are “awful”, as the perpetrator “is allowed to leave the incident site scot-free”.
Galea said the association had proposed solutions through a set of amendments to address flaws in the law and empower the police to carry out its duty.
“We suggested that all drivers involved in a serious traffic accident that produces injuries should be breathalysed. From analysis carried out by the MIA through statistics collected from members, only three per cent of serious accidents were subjected to a breathalyser test,” he said.
Driving abusively and erratically, overspeeding, running red lights and distraction – especially the use of a mobile phone – should be enough cause of suspicion for the police officer to stop that driver and subject them to a test.
'Proposals met with complete indifference'
Galea said the proposals were presented to the minister responsible for enforcement in October 2020 but were greeted with “complete indifference”.
“Nothing has materialised even though we followed up with two successive transport ministers since then. It is very clear that road safety is not on the government’s agenda or radar screen,” he said.
“Same applies to the party in opposition. Neither of the two parties tackled road safety in their political manifestos.
“If the authorities could match, at least partially, the vigour and enthusiasm with which we tackled such an important subject, our roads would be a much safer place for all road users.”
He said the association had donated the 15 breathalyser kits being used by the police despite it being the government’s job to provide the officers with the necessary resources and training and to keep the roads safe.
“We have done more than what is expected of us,” Galea noted.
“We also lobbied strongly for a lowering of alcohol limits even when facing the wrath of the entertainment and business industry which said such low alcohol limits would lead certain outlets to financial ruin.
“We were instrumental at convincing the government to extend the penalty points system to all drivers, as is the case with most of Europe,” Galea said.
Police can only stop person under reasonable suspicion
A spokesperson for the police could not comment on the claim that officers were advising motorists not to report drunk drivers. He, however, explained that the police may only stop a person if there is reasonable suspicion that the same person is, was or tries to drive a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Between January 2019 and the end of last month, 135 drivers tested positive to a breathalyser test while 27 refused to take the test.
A breakdown shows that 35 tested positive in 2019, 25 in 2020 and another 25 in 2021.
Seventeen have tested positive so far this year.
In 2020 and 2021, only five tests were performed on drivers suspected to be under the influence of drugs.