The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

Judge laments lack of breathalyser tests taken compared to total traffic accidents

Albert Galea Friday, 12 April 2019, 12:18 Last update: about 3 months ago

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera lamented on Friday on how few breathalyser tests are taken in comparison with the amount of accidents that happen on Malta’s roads.

Speaking at a conference on drink driving organised by the Malta Insurance Association, Scerri Herrera noted that there were a total of 3,742 accidents in 2018, 18 of which were fatal and 1,345 of which resulted in injuries, but in comparison there were only 165 breathalyser tests administered throughout the same year, 106 of which turned out to be positive.  In 2017, there were 155 tests conducted, 109 of which were positive, while the there were 241 tests conducted in 2016, 188 of which were positive. 

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She noted that police officers could only administer a breathalyser test if they have "reasonable suspicion" of the driver being under the influence, but lamented as well that officers require more training so to establish what constitutes this reasonable suspicion.  She said that the amount of accidents taking place on Malta's roads should warrant more breathalyser tests being taken.

Scerri Herrera lamented that traffic incidents are on the increase and that it was not the case that the police does not take action against offenders.  However, there are generally some errors which end up leading to an acquittal, she said.

She cites cases where there have been errors in the calibration of the breathalyser test, incorrect timing on statements, and forgetfulness on behalf of officers when it comes to signing the test results, or incorrect inputting of the car number plate.  All these factors affect how the court views the evidence in each case and can lead to acquittal of the accused, she said.

Another factor which is not followed a lot of the time is that suspected offenders are not told by officers that their refusal to submit to a breathalyser test if asked is tantamount to an admission of guilt.  In cases where the accused does not submit to such a test, it shall be presumed that the blood to alcohol level in that person is over the legal limit, she said.  However, for this law to apply the accused must be told of this by the officer on site, something which, Scerri Herrera said, is not being done.

Transport Minister Ian Borg meanwhile noted that work on removing drink driving from Malta’s roads had to come from everyone, including the general public.

“We cannot expect the police to be at every social activity; things have to start from the people sitting in the driver’s seat”, Borg said.

The minister commented on the recently released statistic that 164 drivers have lost their driver’s license due to an accumulation of penalty points, saying that while people had reacted in shock at the number thinking it was too small; he was worried at the size of the figure as this means that there would have had to have been a large number of contraventions per person.

He said that there was the need for more concrete deterrents and that a focus on education both on the safe use of transport and also on use of alternative means of transport.

He noted that the Maltese lifestyle was different to that of abroad, indicating that the Maltese people do seven to eight things everyday all across the country, a factor which increases challenges and also the susceptibility to being in accidents.

However, he said, since Malta is politically stable and the government has a strong mandate, it is a good opportunity to implement legislation which will not necessarily be popular with everyone but will have a heavy hand and will, in the long run, help the country.

Family Minister Michael Falzon meanwhile called for more deterrents and enforcement on drunk driving, and floated the idea of making a breathalyser test mandatory in any accident where there is a serious injury or fatality. 

Moving forward in this regard cannot simply be down to stand-alone policies, Falzon said, but must come through work together both between ministries and from law enforcement authorities and the general public itself.

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