This column first appeared on Malta Today
Following the death of 17-year-old Kacey Sciberras in a traffic accident on the Central Link in May of this year, David Sutton, chief officer at the Integrated Transport Strategy Directorate, was quoted as saying that the road safety audit was in its “final stages”. At the time he pointed out that motorists typically drive 10km/h above the speed limit along the 4.3 kilometres of the Central Link, according to initial speed data gathered by the transport authority. The highest speed measured was 157kmh in a 60kmh zone.
And yet, despite this death and several other serious traffic accidents on this strip of road, the news that a speed camera would be installed on the Central Link road with a speed limit of 60kph caused an outburst of angry protests by quite a few people.
The indignation over the speed limit made even less sense to me given that on that same day there was what was probably a record of bad accidents. Five people were rushed to Mater Dei Hospital following a crash on Labour Avenue in Zabbar. Meanwhile, in other areas around the island, another five pedestrians and a motorcyclist were injured in separate accidents.
Yet, here some drivers were, clamouring for a speed limit of 80kmh. I don’t know by what logic they have concluded that having a faster speed limit will help matters on our very dangerous roads. I really don’t understand how driving faster is the magic key to making our roads safer when common sense tells me that what we all need to do is take a deep breath and slow down.
Granted, it is not just excessive speed which is causing the mangled cars, horrific injuries and deaths on a regular basis, but one variable does not exclude the other. If you consider the other possible factors of being under the influence of alcohol/drugs, mobile use, negligence, potholes, constant roadworks, those who should never have been granted a licence in the first place, and combine one or several of them with driving too fast in a country where practically everywhere is residential, then the car becomes a lethal weapon. If you are looking at your mobile while driving at 60 vs driving at 80, that can make a difference between an injury and a fatality. Slowing down saves lives and don’t worry, you will still get to your destination. If you are always late and forever rushing then it’s your time management which needs adjusting and not the speed limit. As for the Central Link, I still don’t get this obsession with demanding an 80 kph speed limit for this stretch of road which is only a few kms long, when you will inevitably be stuck in traffic again after 5 minutes.
The fact some people are blaming “slow” (i.e. obeying the speed limit) drivers for accidents because they become impatient and want to overtake, speaks volumes. There are those who insist that people should switch lanes to allow other (speeding) drivers to overtake, but this is not always possible on certain main roads where you need to stay in your lane in order to go where you want to go.
It seems to me that there is a mania for driving fast, because it is the macho thing to do – whereas driving within the limit is for wimps. And when there is a F1 race on you can be sure that there are those who fancy themselves the next Lewis Hamilton …..as soon as they get behind the wheel, they are transported into some fantasy world in their heads, as they voom voom voom their way through Malta’s streets, especially in the dead of night. You can hear the screeching tyres and the revving engines and with a pit of fear in your stomach, you brace yourself for the sound of a crash and crunching metal. Who cares if some hapless pedestrian or another car gets in the way?
In fact, as I write this, more pedestrians have been run over and I wonder if the road safety authorities are keeping a tally of these type of accidents which require their own extensive educational campaign. It is also true that sometimes it is the pedestrians themselves who are to blame for an accident because of jaywalking. Yesterday while I was driving at least three people popped out of nowhere, scurrying across the road despite a zebra crossing being a few metres away which leads me to conclude that there should be hefty fines for this contravention as well. However, it is also indisputable that if I were going at 80kmh it would be much more difficult for me to slam on the brakes and avoid hitting a person crossing the road haphazardly, than if I were driving at 60 or whatever the speed limit is. It is reminiscent of all those math problems we were forced to do at school about time and the speed of a moving vehicle.
All over the country we have red signs telling us that “speed kills”, so the fact that some insist this is just hogwash is baffling, and worrying. We need to accept that we simply do not have miles and miles of highways or motorways where you can go full throttle and enjoy the thrill of going fast for hours on end. If you want that kind of driving experience you need to leave these shores and go overland as so many do when they cross over to Sicily with their vehicles. If we do not want to keep reading about yet another traffic accident every time we click on a news website, we need to resign ourselves to the obvious …that the island has its limitations, the absurd number of cars means we are in permanent gridlock and no amount of flyovers, road widening or new roads will alter that.
Slow down, it won’t kill you – but speeding will.
16-year-old mayors – with Mummy by their side
The cockamamie decision made by this administration that 16-year-olds may now not only run for local council elections but can also be appointed mayors has been met with the scorn and derision it deserves.
This all started In 2019, when amendments were introduced permitting those aged 16 and over to contest local council elections. That was bad enough, but now this recent addition to the law makes me wonder whether everyone in Government is smoking pot.
There were some people who seemed to think it was a good idea: “after all, immaturity exists in all age groups” was their argument. But really it’s not just about being immature but the lack of life experience, for which there is absolutely no substitute. What on earth can they know at 16? Some cannot even decide which subjects to study or which Sixth Form to go to without their parents deciding for them. Every day this summer I read posts by mothers asking around for summer jobs for their teenagers, and it is not the first time that I have heard of women actually going for a job interview with their children aged 16 and over. (I’m sorry to single you out ladies, but I rarely see the same mollycoddling behaviour by fathers).
Can any of us, hand on heart, say that the way we reasoned at 16 is the way we reasoned at 20 or 26? Even though I was extremely independent at 16, I still would have never been so presumptuous as to run for office because despite not knowing much about life, I am pretty sure I knew enough to know that I would have been completely out of my depth. This idea is even more ridiculous to comprehend with today’s generation of teens who (in comparison ) are much more sheltered than we ever were.
If this is Labour’s way of signalling that they are really desperate to get out the vote in the next local council elections, well then they did a pretty good job. It is patently clear that they are worried and poll after poll continues to confirm that they have reason to be. But here’s some free advice: allowing 16-year-olds to be Mayors is not helping them to regain the trust and confidence of the electorate one bit.