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MaltaToday 10 May 2023 MIDWEEK

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The fact that our roads are becoming more dangerous, especially for pedestrians, is not just a perception; but a reality that we are constantly reminded about, by ev- er-increasing reports of traffic fatalities and injuries. The recent case involving an intoxicated driver, charged with the involuntary homicide of two men from Pakistan, speaks for itself. But NSO statistics, released this week, also show that 2022 was the deadliest year ever in terms of traffic fatalities: with a total 26 road deaths. Four deaths have already been registered in the first quarter of 2023. These figures, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. While fatalities tend to dominate the news cycle, there are many other incidents involving injuries which can have long-lasting consequences on the life of victims and their families. In fact, the NSO's report shows that road traffic casual- ties increased by 13.3% to 367 in 2023. Grievously injured persons amounted to 96, and consisted of 52 drivers, eight passengers and 36 pedestrians or cyclists. And an article penned in the Malta Medical Journal reported that cases of grievous injuries have averaged around 300 per year since 2014: reaching a peak of 339 in 2021, following a small dip during – attributable to the COVID pandemic - in 2020. One such case was recently brought to public attention by Peter Cauchi: whose wife suffered an 80% disability, when a 20-year-old motorist mowed her down on a pe- destrian crossing, at 110 kph. This in turn points to another key issue which urgent- ly needs to be addressed. The Cauchi family was under- standably disappointed that the law courts handed that reckless driver only a one-year prison sentence, suspend- ed for four years; a three-year driving ban; and a fine of just €1,683. This paltry sentence is hardly concomitant with the horrific, life-altering injuries suffered by the victim. As such, we must question whether the lawcourts' present sentencing policies are enough of a deterrent against reckless driving. But as Opposition spokesperson Joe Giglio recently pointed out: an overhaul of the Criminal Code is need- ed to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. As cur- rently worded, Maltese law does not include a proper definition of the sort of injuries that can be sustained in traffic accidents: beyond a vague distinction between 'grievous bodily harm' – which entails imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to a fine not exceeding €4,658.75 – or 'slight harm', in which case the crime is considered as a contravention. As Giglio suggested, it is imperative to introduce a graded system, whereby the penalty properly reflects not just the severity of the injuries themselves but also, their long-term consequences for the victim. Although the law should naturally allow the courts some discretion, it must also provide at least a minimum deterrent, in the form of an active prison sentence. The message should be that reckless driving is a serious crime, which comes with serious consequences for the perpetrator; and, the strongest deterrent in such cases is prison. Moreover, the grading system should also foresee a life- time ban on driving, in at least the most serious cases. The underlying problem, however, is that Malta has al- ways treated 'driving under the influence' leniently; and a culture change is needed, to encourage a culture whereby it becomes the norm, for people on a night out, to 'car- pool'; or to use taxis and public transport, instead of their personal car. And while harsher and more standardised penalties are crucial, improving road-safety also depends on reducing the number of cars on the roads, and providing affordable alternatives. The reality is that Malta's stock of licensed vehicles is increasing at an average rate of 29 vehicles per day. In 2022 alone, the number of licensed motor vehi- cles per 1,000 residents went up to 795, from 780 in 2020. In this sense, the introduction of free public transport was a step in the right of direction. But unfortunately, the bus service in most localities is practically non-exist- ent at nighttime. The introduction of a nationwide cir- cular 24-hour public transport system, including marine connections between major centres, would go a long way towards decreasing the risk of reckless driving at night. Moreover, we should rethink our entire transport infra- structure to prioritise faster public transport links; and more investment in pedestrian infrastructure to ensure safer crossings. The pedestrianisation of entertainment and shopping areas could also encourage people to use public transport to visit these places: especially if on-street parking is ei- ther charged, or restricted. What is crucial, however, is the political will to imple- ment change. The appointment of a Transport Safety Commission, set up to investigate the causes of fatal road accidents, was a step in the right direction; but much de- pends on the will to impose any changes which may be unpopular with motorists. We should not forget that Malta already has a Road Safety Strategy, covering the years between 2014 and 2024. This important document, published in 2014, had very clear targets: to decrease fatalities by 50%, and griev- ous injuries by 30%, over a 10-year period. But there is no evidence that these targets are being achieved. On the contrary: the latest statistics suggest that the situation has in fact worsened. Clearly, then, Malta still needs to get its act together to guarantee road safety to road users, especially the most vulnerable. Time to reclaim our roads from reckless drivers 11 LETTERS & EDITORIAL maltatoday MaltaToday, MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 MANAGING EDITOR: SAVIOUR BALZAN EXECUTIVE EDITOR: MATTHEW VELLA EDITOR: PAUL COCKS Tel: (356) 21 382741-3, 21 382745-6 Website: E-mail: maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 10 MAY 2023

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