Driving safely – do we have what it takes?
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.