The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

Police officers 'should be on the road all day of every week, every month'

Giulia Magri Monday, 3 December 2018, 15:25 Last update: about 6 days ago

A few weeks back, a Road Safety Conference held in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) brought about the discussion of road traffic accidents - the most common causes of injury and death amongst the 15-40 age group. Health Minister Chris Fearne said that driverless cars are the right step towards increasing safety on the roads. Giulia Magri spoke to Alfred Farrugia, an advocate for proper road transport safety management and creator of the Facebook group ‘The Malta Automobile Club’, on the on-going topic of road safety (or lack of) in Malta.

How did the Malta Automobile Club begin and what is the aim of the club?

Alfred Farrugia manages the virtual club which started in 2013 with the aim of exchanging ideas on road safety and drivers education. It also works as a platform for drivers to bring up problems they see on the road. The club then forwards these to the authorities to be tackled.

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The club receives messages regarding transport or driver safety and addresses them to the Transport Ministry. He said that only a few weeks ago, he was in contact with Minister Ian Borg to highlight the issue of carriageway markings in Triq Il-Linja, Attard. Farrugia said it is important that the authorities are aware of these issues. As an example, incorrect carriageway markings can narrow the lanes, causing road accidents.

 

The way forward with regard to enforcement on road and driver safety

Farrugia says that can decide for themselves whether they will be safe and respect other road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. The main problem is that there is a lack of education and enforcement, an issue everyone is aware about, but very little is being done to tackle these problems.

Recently, the police force has introduced the use of speed guns. Farrugia says that, whilst speed is an important factor in road safety, one needs to also consider drivers ignoring stop signs, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and not wearing safety belts. He said that one rarely sees police officers at roundabouts unless it’s rush hour or during the festive season, when in reality they should be on the road all day, of every week, every month throughout the year.

He said that the right step forward is to introduce road safety education at an earlier stage. Countries like the United Kingdom have come up with education packs on safe and sustainable road safety measures, which are produced for children and different age groups. Farrugia said that he passed this suggestion to Education authorities and private schools but has not received any information yet. “We do not need to re-invent the wheel; everything is done and ready to be used,” Farrugia said.

He has personal experience in teaching fifth formers and school leavers driver and safety road measures and says students have shown a great deal of interest.

He believes that if children and potential new drivers are taught road safety and driver’s education, half of the problems would be solved. There is a need for a push in media: regular programmes on television to remind drivers of the correct way to behave on the road.

He also said that there is a need for a motor racing circuit; a place where people can quench their need for speed safely. Farrugia said he was among the first to propose a racing track circuit 50 years ago, and is happy now that there is finally a discussion about the need for one. He said that with the proper balance of sport and education with regard to road racing, young divers would have a proper environment for speeding so that they would then control themselves on public roads.

 

TVM declines proposal for road safety programme

The Malta Automobile Club had submitted a proposal to the national broadcaster (TVM) to produce and present a road safety series of programmes, but this offer was declined.

Farrugia said the programme on road safety was based on a programme aired by the American Automobile Association with the sole purpose of serving as a good refresher course for all drivers.

Farrugia noted that, back in the 1960’s there were already numerous programmes on the matter being aired by TVM and also radio programmes on RTK, which were all very successful. He said that he cannot understand why stations refuse to air such programmes, when regular media campaigns should be promoted all year round, and not solely during the festive season.

“Public education through television and schools should make progress from the chaos we are facing now.” He said that there is a free-for-all system in Malta but with more enforcement and education and awareness, accidents could go down to zero.

 

Driverless cars

Farrugia said that relying on driverless cars means that the authorities have lost confidence in human drivers. Many say the problem is Maltese drivers, when in reality there are thousands of Maltese who live abroad and who drive and respect the rules of the road there. The problem is the local situation, where there is not enough enforcement or education.

If driverless cars do come to Malta, many issues would have to be discussed, especially ethical ones.

One of the questions that has to be asked is: should a driverless car prioritise the safety of its passengers or pedestrians outside? Would it risk hurting pedestrians in order to keep the passengers safe?

He also said that unless all roads are paved and marked properly, and maps are absolutely accurate and constantly being updated, the driverless system in Malta will not work. If and when the system does come to Malta, it might decrease the number of accidents, but Farrugia is not fully convinced that such a system would solve the road safety problem.

 

Mass transport

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recently said that the government will not embark on a mass transport system before the seven-year €700 million roads pledge is completed. We are only one year into that pledge.

Asked about this statement, Farrugia said that public transport is an issue which needs to be improved right away. 2019 marks the first year when €100 million will be spent on the road works, when over the years the government has been receiving more millions of euro in vehicle taxation, registration tax and driving licences permits.

So whilst the government makes so much money from vehicle taxation, it is not spending more than €20 million euro per year. If the money collected from these taxes was used accordingly, we would not have the issue of traffic congestion that we are facing now.

Farrugia agrees that a new project, such as the central link project, as controversial as it is, is a good step forward. He said that it is important to have proper roads for the amount of cars which are on the road. He said that the Government is moving in the right direction to improve road infrastructure.

 

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