The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

More speed cameras, speed guns not only solution

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 22 May 2022, 10:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

We’re not halfway through the year yet, but we already had more traffic fatalities than we registered in the whole of 2021.

We have had 12 deaths on the road so far, apart from a long list of other accidents which led to serious injuries, with people ending up in intensive care.

In most occasions, accidents are caused as a result of speeding vehicles. It is much easier to control a car while driving at 40 kilometres per hour, than when one is driving at 80. And the impact of a crash at 40km is less traumatic than one at 80.

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That’s stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said, too.

One way of decreasing danger on our roads is reducing speed, and one way of encouraging drivers to let go of the accelerator is to install speed cameras. Fines are then given out to offenders, and points are deducted too.

But speed cameras are not – and should not be – the only solution. And if speed cameras are put up simply as money making machines, and go against the logic of driving, then there is a possibility that they will not have the desired effect.

Strategy

We have several speed cameras on our major roads. In the last 10 years, some 500,000 contraventions have been given out, an average of 50,000 a year. In the first three months this year, nearly 12,500 tickets have been issued, right on course to maintain the yearly average.

The lowest fine for over-speeding is €35.65, so if all these fines were the lowest, drivers collectively paid nearly €18 million. It was much more than that, because drivers who exceeded the limit by more than 15km/h saw their fine shoot up to €69.65.

These cameras are strategically placed in zones which are notorious to accidents, we’re told. But they cover only a small section of the road. Those who get caught are usually drivers who do not normally frequent the road in question and do not pay attention to the signs indicating the approaching camera and speed limit in place, or else have a moment of distraction.

The first question that comes to mind is whether speed cameras covering a small stretch are enough to encourage drivers to slow down. Many drivers get used to slowing down as they approach the speed camera, only to press on the accelerator again as soon as they drive past it. Most drivers, in fact, stick to the limit only in the small stretch covered by the camera.

The second question is why there are different speed limits on cameras on the same road. Take the Coast Road, for example. There is a limit of 60km/h on one camera, and another of 70 on another camera, in both northbound and southbound directions. Is this to confuse drivers? Is this some kind of entrapment?

An abrupt slowing down or a downright stop on a main thoroughfare is likely to be as dangerous as speeding, and so this “mixed” situation can result in serious accidents too.

The third question is why is the speed limit set so low in roads such as the Coast Road, running the risk of more accidents as drivers are more concerned with looking at their speedometer rather than keeping their eyes on the road. Should there not be an 80km/h limit as there is on the St Paul’s Bay by-pass?

Does it make sense that, in an open stretch on the Coast Road the limit is 60km and then, as one is approaching Pembroke – where the two-lane road inexplicably narrows into one lane – the limit there is 70? Isn’t this telling drivers that they can drive at a higher speed when they are supposed to be slowing down as the road is becoming narrower?

Most drivers end up paying fines even when they believe that they have a chance of overturning the contravention if they had to appear before a tribunal. They find it easier to pay rather than having to leave the workplace to contest the ticket. It is however likely that we will see a surge of such contestations, particularly after the publication of a news article which explained how a tribunal found that a speed camera was not calibrated according to law.

Speed guns

We have now been told that wardens will soon be carrying mobile speed guns, which they will be using mostly in residential areas, where the speed limits are much lower.

It appears that there is no need for drivers to be given a warning that a warden is using such equipment. Although the intention is good, it just does not sound right that a warden can hide behind a corner or a bush to take snapshots to measure the speed of oncoming vehicles. We should have a law that lays down the guidelines as to how, where and when these speed guns can be used. It is certainly not fair on drivers.

Wardens already have become notorious for the way they dish out tickets. The imminent use of such speed guns will only serve to enhance the negative way they are perceived.

Roads

Speed can cause accidents, but so do bad roads.

The government has invested heavily in the building of new roads in the last 10 years, not without controversy as some of them meant taking up fields and chopping down trees. Whether they have really served to ease the traffic flow is arguable, since bottlenecks have appeared in other locations. The Tal-Balal road, for example, is now wider, but the flow is still hampered by the roundabout near the Liquid club and as one is then approaching the Naxxar church.

We were then also told that Infrastructure Malta built or rebuilt 700 roads in the past legislature. But the agency seems to have missed out on some important ones.

Signs at the side of the road in St Andrew’s indicate that an application for a project to rebuild the stretch was filed in 2019, but three years down the line, only minor alterations were done. In the meantime, the road has degenerated into a roller-coaster ride of bumps, humps and holes that a recent patchwork of tarmacking did not repair.

The same goes for the road leading from Lija to the centre of Birkirkara, which is also in a sad state, and there are many others like them. Pity the Pope’s route did not cover these roads; maybe we would have seen something done.

Accidents can happen too when drivers are more concentrated on avoiding the next pothole rather than being on the lookout for any other dangers they encounter while driving.

Why, then, minor repairs take long to be done? A culvert grate which was dislodged as one is driving down from Mellieha to Ghadira took five to six weeks to be repaired, and in the meantime led to risks as it was not properly indicated to oncoming traffic, particularly at night.

Then, manholes that are not level with the tarmac also create danger.

Drivers and pedestrians

This takes us to drivers. Many follow the rules, drive with caution and do not need speed cameras to make them aware of the risks of speeding. But then there are many others who take unnecessary risks, endangering themselves as well as others.

While this often happens as a result of other bad drivers – there are some who, for example, persist in driving slowly on the faster lane, meaning that drivers have to snake their way past – many then fail to observe roundabout rules, just to give one common example. Others do not know that cars are equipped with indicators.

Pedestrians also have their part to play to reduce risks. Many cross a road in a dangerous point when there is a pelican lights system just 50 metres away. Some walk on the road instead of using the pavement (even here, some pavements are in an appalling state that make walking dangerous too, and almost impossible for people pushing prams and on wheelchairs).

We have seen improvement, but we are a long way away from what we all desire.

 

 

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