Sunday 24 May 2020

Why is it so difficult to show restraint rather than rushing to blame?

A tragic fatal accident which has completely devastated a family is not something which should be the subject of immediate, knee-jerk commentary.

And yet, it never fails to amaze me how unthinking people can be, how completely devoid of empathy or compassion before they start firing off on all cylinders about what might have caused the accident.

The Mgarr fatality on Sunday, which has cost the lives of a mother and her daughter, with others members of the family, including a child, left seriously injured, was barely in the news five minutes before the stream of speculation began.  The only people who can say what really happened are the surviving occupants of those two cars which crashed head-on (although Lovin Malta has reported the account of someone claiming to be an eye-witness).   

The blame culture began almost instantly: on the roadworks, lack of proper lighting and signage, while news reports said that one of the cars was driving the wrong way (with further public conjecture as to why) or due to speeding.  And people know all this…how?  

Even the Transport Minister was ill-advised to immediately state that the roadworks had nothing to do with the accident because he was not there either.  In fact, if he were not so eager to brush off all semblance of responsibility, common sense (or even political savvy) should have told him that when you hear that people have been tragically killed and others grievously injured, the correct response is to offer your condolences and state that you will investigate to see whether the ongoing roadworks were a contributing factor.  

However, according to The Times report:  “I want to stress that none of the incidents reported this weekend were linked to ongoing roadworks. My appeal is that everyone on the roads must be responsible. We risk not just our own lives, but those of other drivers on the road…I am informed that there was no link to the roadworks as this was a head on collision,” he said, adding that the incidents should serve as an “eye opener” for motorists about the dangers they faced on the road.  He later declined to delve into further detail, citing ongoing magisterial inquiries, but added that his position was based on information passed on to him by those on site.  

It is at times like this that those in authority need to demonstrate sensitivity and tact rather than come across as being more concerned that their own image is being tarnished and their pet projects are being criticized.  Even if, as he says, information was passed on to him, this is just second-hand. Since when does a Minister depend on hearsay rather than an official inquiry?  It was a horrific accident, just like the accident on Saturday evening which claimed the life of a young German woman, riding pillion, who was crushed to death by a truck after she fell off the motorbike which swerved when it tried to avoid stone and gravel on the road.  Again, in the latter case, the blame game was being played out all over social media, which further underlines the need for official conclusions on the cause of the accident to be brought to public attention as soon as possible. Most of the time, months and years pass, people forget and we never really know what happened unless the case goes to Court where it is all dredged up again.  

A case in point is the terrible double decker bus tragedy which happened a year ago – have we ever learnt the cause of the accident or are we going to be kept in the dark? The public deserves an explanation when such large-scale accidents happen.  The last we heard about it was in February of this year when the heirs of one of the victims filed a lawsuit against Transport Malta for failing to ensure safety on the road, and against the bus operator for negligence, while claiming that “the driver’s reckless driving should be borne by the company which employed him”.  This means we will have to wait for the outcome of this Court case to get any answers.

Minister Ian Borg certainly got one thing right: that drivers need to be more careful and not take risks, but the reason for this is because those in charge are not doing their job.  There are definitely drivers out there who are a menace to society, and yet traffic police pulling them over and booking them are nowhere to be seen.  Nor have I seen the much-flaunted speed guns being used except at the beginning when police officers seemed to be trying them out like new toys. 

He was also right about other dangers on the road, but this is where he cannot keep blaming motorists.  When you have every single part of the island undergoing road construction with maze-like diversions, massive potholes everywhere, cranes squatting in the middle of the road, vehicles double parking because people cannot be bothered to park further away and walk, it is virtually impossible to drive without swerving. Just the other day I found myself on the wrong side of the road because a zebra crossing was being painted at 9am, and the workers had placed orange cones up to the point which had been painted, forcing me to the other side. Another car was coming towards me but luckily it was a wide road, visibility was good, we had both slowed down and one car gave way to the other.  If one of us had been going slightly too fast, it would have been a disaster. 

These near misses are a daily occurrence every time you use your car.  It is a hazardous, obstacle race, compounded by drivers who believe themselves to be F1 drivers while living out their Grand Prix fantasy.   On an island crawling with too many cars and too many wannabe Lewis Hamiltons, driving was already very stressful, so the last thing we needed was simultaneous nationwide roadworks.  Because despite Infrastructure Malta’s statement, no, not every single place where roadworks are taking place is properly lit or has clear signage. All it takes is for someone to be slightly distracted, or some other human error, for cars to collide and people to be injured, or worse, as they are every single day. 

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