During the 2022 Doctors for Road Safety Conference, with the theme ‘How do we reach VISION ZERO?’, details, statistics and the way forward, on road safety, were discussed. The event brought together key stakeholders including government ministers and high-level officials responsible for transport, environment and health. HE President of Malta George Vella opened the conference.
There was a steep increase in the number of serious road traffic events in Malta resulting in death, injury and disability, with the highest number of casualties in 2022 reaching an all-time high of 27 deaths.
In his introduction, Dr. Ray Gatt, President of Doctors for Road Safety, acknowledged the decrease in road deaths in cars but expressed concern for the disproportionate increase in the numbers of road deaths and injuries in pedestrians and motorcyclists. He referred to the avoidable high burden of road trauma on the health system in Malta, costs to families, and loss of productivity due to death, injury and disability amounting to some 200 million Euro per year.
The President of Malta welcomed the initiative by Doctors for Road Safety and congratulated the NGO for bringing together all the stakeholders to be able to discuss this important national issue. Acknowledging the particularly worsening statistics and the devastation left behind when people die on our roads, as well as the potential that these are preventable events, he urged all present to address this problem with high priority. He emphasised that a collaborative approach to the Vision Zero philosophy to road safety is essential, with improved roadway environments, educational outreach to address behaviours, enforcement, and rapid post-crash intervention as being key components of this approach.
Mr Jonathan Passmore, Regional Adviser at WHO Europe, explained how road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death worldwide, with road trauma having its greatest impact on the young and economically active. He invited the audience to stand for a moment in remembrance of all victims lost to the roads. As one of the interventions which could curb crashes involving inexperienced drivers, he introduced the concept of a graduated licensing procedure. Mr Passmore reiterated that the only way to achieving Vision Zero is through a safe systems approach. He encouraged all sectors – hospital networks, police, environment, transport, insurance – to collaborate on a study on a number of fatal crashes and analyse them down to all the dimensions of contributing factors from a safe systems approach, making causation, preventable factors as a basis for the next national road safety strategy.
Mr Gordon Caruana Dingli, Vice-President D4RS, analysed the issue further, calling for evidenced-based solutions to a well-defined multi-faceted tragic problem. He said that Doctors for Road Safety will never accept fatalities on our roads and hence our Vision Zero approach to this problem lying at the basis of the NGOs statute. He showed that even with some basic data, crash hotspots could be identified, and timely safety interventions introduced.
Malta Road Safety Council Executive Chair Pierre Vella insisted that Road Safety should not just be about numbers but affects people’s lives. Road safety is everyone’s responsibility and insisted several times that all stakeholders should work together to achieve satisfactory outcomes.
Mr Trevor Hall, Managing Director of Road Safety Support UK, emphasised the importance of enforcement and its visibility in achieving road safety, together with sound legislation at its basis. He discussed enforcement technology in detail, looking at the value of remote enforcement as a behaviour-modifying tool. He brought several examples where this can be utilised to best effect using examples such as reckless driving, dangerous overtaking, overspeeding and distracted driving. In conclusion, he introduced a system currently operational in some parts of the UK, whereby dashcam footage of illegal driving could be uploaded onto a police operated portal so that appropriate enforcement can be effected.
Dr Antoine Casha, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Malta, focused on the need for strengthening existing legal frameworks for more effective enforcement (e.g. alcohol). This includes revision of the sections of the law addressing driving under the influence of alcohol, which need to be more flexible and robust for law enforcers. There is also the need for a complete new section of the law to address driving under the influence of drugs, for which there are as yet no defined criteria or process for detection and enforcement.
Dr Gordon Sammut, Associate Professor in Social Psychology, at the University of Malta discussed the importance of tackling behaviour on the roads and the benefits of punishment and rewards, also stressing that the cost of non-compliance needs to be meaningful and significant to act as an effective deterrent
All speakers recognised the need for collaborative commitment and responsibility to action as well as more post-crash support to families of victims. This was echoed Dr Lucianne Licari, founder of Tara Malou Licari Foundation, doctor and mother of 17-year-old road victim Tara, who made a heartfelt appeal to the authorities to work together to tackle issues to prevent more deaths and suffering to families like herself and others in the audience. Similar appeals came from family members of road victims in the audience.
The conference was closed by Minister Aaron Farrugia who acknowledged the significant increase in the numbers of cars on our roads over the years and the importance of a culture change towards alternative mobility. He revealed that interventions by his ministry were being discussed, including new terms of reference to be embedded in law for the Road Safety Council and the updating of Malta’s Road Safety Strategy. Discussions are also underway with the Education ministry on educating future generations by inclusion of this subject on the national curriculum. He acknowledged that current enforcement efforts are definitely not enough, and together with education will be a key to driving change. He appealed for fast action by all concerned to address this important issue and reiterated the commitment of the Government towards Vision Zero, while pledging further investment for achieving this goal. He concluded by welcoming the participation and contribution of the NGO and all other stakeholders in addressing this important issue.