The Malta Independent 24 September 2023, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: Driver safety, data, and ideas for the future

Monday, 21 November 2022, 10:50 Last update: about 11 months ago

The Secretary of the NGO Doctors for Road Safety, Mario Vassallo, is asking for better data to determine the root cause of skyrocketing road deaths.

When Vassallo was asked by The Malta Independent on Sunday about the reason why road deaths have skyrocketed, he said that "the real answer is that we really don't know".

"The first thing that we are committed to is to make sure that as much as possible, we gather all the information, all the data and encourage all the stakeholders to investigate and come up with almost scientific answers to exactly that question. Of course, anecdotally we know that the big problems are distraction, alcohol and possibly drugs, especially recreational drugs. We know that enforcement is an issue which needs to be tackled.  But having said that we don't have any hard data with which we can really answer that question."

Gathering such data could at least help better identify the main problems and could possibly uncover ones which are not as well known.

On a more general tone, Malta has seen plenty of don't' drink and drive campaigns, or campaigns against using mobile phones on the road... but how effective have they been really? If the issue is not being solved through such campaigns, then we need to do something more about it. Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced that the fines for people using a mobile phone while driving are set to increase, which is one way of tackling it.

As for education, when asked about educating drivers and how this could be done better, Vassallo stresses the importance of educating people while they are young, especially older teenagers who are about to take up the responsibility of driving or have already begun.

Having targeted campaigns at this age group could of course help, and perhaps having talks in schools about it could also possibly be something that could prevent future bad behaviour on the roads. Vassallo stressed the need to mention that road traffic injuries and deaths are the number one cause of mortality in the age group of 20-24, and indeed it should.

At the same time, we have become too used to statistics, and we tend to just gloss over them. We need to make people realise how one mistake, one slip up could ruin not just their lives, but someone else's. Just imagine how you would go through life if you run someone over, cause them to lose a limb or have to live life with a disability. Just imagine if you kill someone because you were on the phone and didn't see that person crossing the road... The grief that would cause that person's family. It would weigh very heavy on your conscience. Would it have been worth picking up the phone? Would it have been worth the rush to your destination not to be late? Would it have been worth that extra shot of alcohol?

The use of shocking images in educational campaigns might have a small effect, but let's be honest, we get used to seeing such imagery through film and cinema and it has lost its impact. But perhaps getting real stories out there might help students if they are getting it directly from the horse's mouth.

So far this year, road deaths have skyrocketed to the record-breaking figure of 24. We have so many accidents on a daily basis... we need to be more careful.

Vassallo said: "Driving is a privilege. People say 'I have a right to drive' but it is actually a privilege," and he is absolutely right.

He had mentioned a scheme which is being utilised in some countries, placing strict measures on young drivers such as not being able to drive cars which are very powerful, not being able to drive at night and/or there is absolutely no tolerance for alcohol. "It's been shown to influence the mentality and culture of young drivers," he said. If that's the case, then why not use this scheme in Malta?

He also has some interesting ideas with regards to enforcement, arguing that it can also focus on rewarding drivers. "A more tangible example would be if insurance companies monitor your speed and if you drive within speed limits, then you get an ongoing no-claim discount every year. So you know that if you stick to the rules at the end of the year your insurance premium might actually go down rather than up." Another example he gave was that, when it comes to minor infringements on the road, for the first a driver might get a letter explaining what they've done wrong and what they should've done. "Or instead of dishing out fines, you can ask people to go to an education event which creates a little bit of inconvenience for the driver but it will also train people and educate them in a specific targeted way." These are ideas worth exploring. After all people would love lower insurance payments, and people would not like having to go to a driving seminar on a Saturday.

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