The annual festive season has a tendency of raising the level of awareness about the perils of drink-driving. In his interview on TVM, George Grech (who faces the extent and reality of drug abuse on a daily basis) reminds us that drug-driving is, on top of drink-driving, another phenomenon to be reckoned with.
Although the association I represent does not have access to any statistics about the extent of the problem, Grech’s affirmations and those of others who regularly contribute opinions to the public domain, certainly point at a situation which is close to critical and requires immediate attention.
Alcohol impairs the ability to drive and once alcohol enters the bloodstream, this inability will vary from one individual to another. Alcohol may impact concentration levels, reaction times, coordination abilities and reduce concentration and judgment capabilities.
Drugs, which include strong prescription drugs (where driving and/or operating heavy machinery is not recommended) will also impair the ability to drive, even if very low doses are taken.
From research conducted, ‘depressant’ drugs (cannabis, heroin, benzodiazepines) tend to slow down the activity of the nervous system – hence slower reaction times, reduced concentration etc. On the other hand, ‘stimulant drugs’ (amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy) do the exact opposite – they tend to rev up the activity of the central nervous system, which may give rise to erratic, aggressive and dangerous driving.
Finally, ‘hallucinogenic’ drugs (ketamine, LSD etc) distort a person’s perception of reality, may induce blurred vision, reduce concentration and reduce the ability to think straight.
Maltese legislation is quite clear on the subject of driving when under the influence of drugs. Sections 15A and 15B (Chapter 65 – Traffic Regulation Ordinance) state:
“No person shall drive or attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle or other vehicle or other vehicle on a road or other public place if he is unfit to drive through drink or drugs.
“No person shall drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle or other vehicle on a road or other public place after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limits.”
While 15A tackles both alcohol and drugs, 15B focuses solely on alcohol limits.
Without any proper testing on site, the intoxicated person is treated as if he was perfectly sober and capable to drive
The worrying factor is that while the police are currently equipped to test drivers for alcohol limits, such testing is not carried out for driving while intoxicated (with drugs) – which is the terminology used nowadays and applicable also for alcohol.
They simply do not have the equipment to carry out roadside tests for drugs.
Grech is therefore absolutely right in expressing his concerns at the incidence of drug and alcohol consumption and the effects that mixing these two will have on driving.
It is for this reason that drink and drug-driving is prohibited – it is dangerous not only for the individual at the wheel but also for other road users. A person consuming drugs and/or alcohol should steer clear from the driving wheel.
The MIA has for a while advocated that our legislation needs to be improved and widened further to empower the police to carry out random tests for both alcohol and drug intoxication.
The association has also strongly recommended that such tests become mandatory in the event of serious accidents, a recommendation which, we were happy to note, has now been also included in the recently-published National Alcohol Policy.
Insurers are under an obligation at law to compensate (third party) victims of traffic accidents in spite of the fact the responsible driver is found to have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is the reason why it is obligatory for every person driving to be covered by an effective insurance policy so that victims are always compensated irrespective of whether the person at fault was sober or intoxicated.
With no such testing taking place at the accident site, one cannot ascertain whether (drug and/or alcohol) intoxication was a contributory factor to the traffic accident.
As a result, without any proper testing on site, the intoxicated person is treated as if he was perfectly sober and capable to drive, walk away and leave it up to the insurance company to investigate and deal with all the complications before being able to pay the compensation that would arise with such accidents.
On the other hand, if mandatory testing is undertaken on an accident site, one may be able to ascertain whether intoxication could have been the main or a contributing cause of the accident. Although the victim will be compensated the insurers then have the right by law to seek to recover any payments made from the driver who caused the accident while intoxicated.
Hence, it is clear that test results will only make processing the insurance claim much quicker, ensuring that victims do not have to wait unduly to receive compensation.
At the same time those who acted irresponsibly are not made to burden the cost of claims which is ultimately paid from the pool of premiums contributed by honest policyholders who follow the rules of the road.
Adrian Galea is director general, Malta Insurance Association.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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