Driv­ing safely – do we have what it takes?

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

This year has not been a good one for fa­tal­i­ties and se­ri­ous in­juries caused by road ac­ci­dents. In spite of all the road safety cam­paigns, ed­u­ca­tional video clips and stricter driv­ing tests, seem to get worse rather than bet­ter.

What is wrong with­out driv­ing? What do we need, to reach a bet­ter stan­dard?

Fran­cis Val­letta, Gen­eral Man­ager at GasanMamo In­sur­ance, says that we don’t have an­swers to ei­ther ques­tion, and sus­pect not many do, but one need to think hard and crit­i­cally and try to per­haps learn from other coun­tries by look­ing as some of the ini­tia­tives that have been adopted there.

“Smart­phones have changed our lives, mostly for the bet­ter, but prob­a­bly for the worse when it comes to driv­ing. The UK po­lice have just started an ex­per­i­ment to crack­down on mo­torists who use their mo­bile phone while driv­ing. While fines and penalty points for this of­fence have been dou­bled, the of­fi­cers will be us­ing un­marked vans, hel­met cams and high seated ve­hi­cles to catch of­fend­ers. Their aim is to make ‘driv­ing dis­tracted’ as so­cially un­ac­cept­able as drink driv­ing”, said Mr Val­letta.

The key phrase in that sen­tence is ‘so­cially un­ac­cept­able’. In Malta, like the UK, drink driv­ing is il­le­gal, but the level en­force­ment of the law can­not be even com­pared. What is more wor­ry­ing for GasanMamo In­sur­ance is that un­for­tu­nately many do not ap­pre­ci­ate the need to have zero tol­er­ance for drink-driv­ing.

“It is rare that when out for the evening, be it a din­ner party or at a wedding, any­body pays any at­ten­tion to lim­it­ing their al­co­hol in­take be­cause they would be driv­ing, or even worse, that any­body else re­marks on it. There is of course the widely held be­lief that the al­co­hol lim­its are too strict and that in re­al­ity one can still drive safely even if one is “not too much” over the limit. This of course is proven to be to­tally in­cor­rect in ev­ery study ever un­der­taken. So we need to re­ally start to ac­cept that drink­ing al­co­hol and then driv­ing is sim­ply ir­re­spon­si­ble and there­fore to­tally un­ac­cept­able, and we should not hes­i­tate or be em­bar­rassed to say so when faced with it,” said Mr Val­letta.

GasanMamo In­sur­ance ac­knowl­edges that us­ing a smart­phone/mo­bile while driv­ing and drink driv­ing are cer­tainly not the only causes of ac­ci­dents. Many ac­ci­dents, more than many would be­lieve, are caused by care­less­ness, in­dif­fer­ence and a lack of re­spect for other road users. Why oth­er­wise would some driv­ers dou­ble park block­ing traf­fic, drive slowly on the outer lane caus­ing ve­hi­cles to over­take on the in­side, not give prece­dence to cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans, ig­nore stop signs and give way signs, jump red lights, not use in­di­ca­tors and make il­le­gal ma­noeu­vres like U turns or driv­ing against one-way signs? Some driv­ers put their own con­ve­nience and com­fort above ev­ery­thing else, and are to­tally in­sen­si­tive about the fact that their ac­tions may cause dan­ger to oth­ers and some­times their own selves. It seems that no amount of road safety cam­paigns and ed­u­ca­tional mes­sages work as at­ti­tudes re­main un­changed. So where does that leave us? Some of you are prob­a­bly shout­ing out “bet­ter en­force­ment” at this point.

“En­force­ment is a fine word,” says Mr Val­letta, “It makes us think of gen­tle­manly, well-man­nered yet force­ful and dis­ci­plined po­lice of­fi­cers and traf­fic war­dens who are able to close a kind eye to mi­nor trans­gres­sions, but are mer­ci­less with bul­lies and bla­tant of­fend­ers. Well, we can dream on, be­cause this is very far from re­al­ity, and we all know it. Un­less we get proper en­force­ment in place, that is not only fair but also seen to be fair, then we have lit­tle hope that some peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes will change. We need to start by hav­ing the re­quired amount of of­fi­cers avail­able who are well equipped and more im­por­tantly prop­erly trained. Per­haps we also need to also re­con­sider the penal­ties and sanc­tions given out by our courts on il­le­gal driv­ing. The idea of hav­ing a de­merit point sys­tem on one’s li­cense is of course an ex­cel­lent one as it can act as an ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent. An­other idea might be re­quir­ing of­fend­ers to at­tend safe driv­ing classes (in use in the North Ger­man state of Flens­burg) or take spe­cialised driv­ing tu­ition and a driv­ing test to re-ac­quire a sus­pended li­cence (adopted in The Nether­lands)”, added Mr Val­letta. And what about speed­ing? Mr Val­letta com­mented that some­one re­cently ob­served, per­haps jok­ingly, that the fact that we are spend­ing so much more time in bumper to bumper slow mov­ing traf­fic that when we then get a clear road we vent our frus­tra­tions by over-speed­ing.

“Whether that is true or not I can­not say but cer­tainly I have, like many of you, seen some crazy driv­ers weav­ing from one side to the other at an in­ap­pro­pri­ately high speed, and not all of them were wild young driv­ers in souped-up cars.” Don’t speed cam­eras help? “Of course they have done, but we all know how we see cars sud­denly slow down when ap­proach­ing one, and then speed­ing up again once safely past it. Other mea­sures are clearly needed, but more than any­thing it comes back to a driver’s at­ti­tude to­wards safe driv­ing.”

Is it all neg­a­tive? Mr Val­letta con­cedes that it is not “We can­not ig­nore the fact the we have bet­ter roads, bet­ter mark­ings, more traf­fic lights and a driv­ing test that pro­duces bet­ter driv­ers than be­fore. What we re­ally need though is a change in men­tal­ity, a to­tally dif­fer­ent out­look on driv­ing and a true ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the risks in­volved.

Fun­da­men­tally we need to grow up and act like re­spon­si­ble adults rather than like over-ex­cited chil­dren play­ing with their favourite toy,” he added.

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