The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

TMID Editorial: So what exactly constitutes a road distraction?

Thursday, 19 July 2018, 12:33 Last update: about 6 months ago

The Planning Authority this week may have somewhat inadvertently opened up a huge can of worms when it came down on those signs posted across the country in the early morning hours of last Monday to mark the ninth month since the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

That there was a political motivation behind the hasty removal of those 900-odd signs, which incidentally made some serious accusations and asked equally serious questions, is not in doubt, but that is not the subject being treated here.

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Those cardboard signs strung up on trees lining the roads, according to the Planning Authority, were a distraction to drivers and had to be removed lest they were to cause an accident.  They were abusive because there was no permission for them issued by a public authority and they were deemed a traffic hazard due to their location, on trees lining main roads, and their numbers.

Moreover, the PA points out how the Billboards and Advertisements Regulations prohibit the fixing or placing of any such placards and that it was empowered to immediately remove them.

That may be all well and good but once the Planning Authority is at it, it would be well advised to look into the plethora of other road distractions that make driving in this country a continual and perpetual modern day, civilian version of running of the gauntlet.

At night, these include those LED billboards on main roads, whose brightness is certainly not regulated in any way, shape or form as they literally blind passing drivers, particularly when the display changes from a dark to a bright background.

The wholesale removal of trees from so many of the country’s main roads have also brought about a new distraction, one that we live with most of the year thanks to our clement climate, which is glare on roads that were once shaded most of the day.

When it comes to billboards, while it is understandable that these are something of an accepted norm in this day and age, the proliferation and concentration of them in this country appears abnormal after driving abroad.  Yes, this may be down to the small size of the country but then again, the economies of scale should be seen to work both ways.

Not only are they eyesores, but they serve no public service whatsoever apart from the interests of billboard owners and advertisers.

Making things even more concerning in this context is Enemalta’s latest brainwave: issuing a request for tenders for the lease of advertising space on street light pole across the country.  One wonders exactly what drivers will be treated to next.

Then there us the famous Mriehel bridge, which came to fruition many years after two teenage girls were killed on the bypass beneath while attempting to cross it.  The irony here is that while pedestrians have been given safe passage across the bypass, even though it is seldom used by all accounts, the bridge itself has been plastered with advertising – again, another distraction for drivers.

Look around, but not too much, while driving and one is met with a constant visual bombardment – it may be subtle but it is there, omnipresent and most of it is perfectly legitimate and carries the authorities’ rubber stamp of approval.

Back to those signs placed on Sunday night and Monday morning, those that the PA actually took exception to, we will give whoever placed them the benefit of the doubt and assume they would have cleared them up after the day they were commemorating.

Notwithstanding that, one finds it strange that the PA came down so hard in this instance when it either turns a blind eye to or condones and permits other, far more serious and more distracting traffic hazards.

It is only hoped that, given the PA’s zeal for tearing down such signage, that they will leave those missing pet and kids’ birthday party signage and accompanying balloons alone.

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