Road rage rules OK

In Malta, the constant unlimited increase in cars on our roads has led to many drivers getting impatient while driving in a slow-moving column – something that one can experience in all roads during the hours before people start work or before students and pupils are expected to be at school

Road rage has become the hallmark of the majority of motorists in Malta. Their aggressive or angry behaviour include pressing the car horn at every other vehicle judged to be moving slowly, besides rude and verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods targeted toward another driver or non-drivers such as pedestrians or cyclists in an effort to intimidate or release frustration.

In many countries road rage is a driving offence. In Malta, it is becoming so common that such an idea sounds ludicrous to many! Everybody does it and it is always somebody else’s fault.

Remember Gordon Cordina being asked to calculate how much travel time was going to be ‘saved’ following some traffic project or other? Yet today nobody reckons that any travel time that was saved following all the major infrastructure road improvement works that the country has seen in the last ten years or so.

I suspect Cordina’s calculations did not cater for the increase in motor vehicles in Maltese roads. In the three summer months this year – for example – licensed vehicles on the road increased by 3,322. That is 36 more vehicles each and every day, Sundays included. We have become a car-obsessed country with the population unable to move without every man, woman and child having their own personal means of transport.

Use of electric scooters is flourishing among youngsters and tourists. Scooter users seem to be unaware of traffic regulations and often move against the flow of the traffic or criss-cross traffic lanes in the most dangerous ways. Finding a scooter coming from behind you from the blind side and then crossing the road – as I have personally experienced - is an example of how dangerous the methods of some scooter drivers are. Soon we will have serious accidents involving scooter drivers.

The number of people who have died as a consequence of a traffic accident this year is already 22, with over two months to go till the end of the year. Unfortunately it will be statistically a record year.

Driving during peak times has become a nightmare. Everybody is in a hurry and every driver behaves as if the driver of the vehicle in front of them is responsible for the traffic gridlock. Drivers go to great lengths to surpass a vehicle, only to remain in the same column behind the next car.

Slow moving traffic leads drivers to engage in other activities while driving. These activities include people who leave home in a hurry checking their appearance, including women applying make-up, and the use of the ever-present hand-held mobile phone. Such activities distract the driver’s attention away from the road and compromise the safety of the driver, as well as that of passengers, pedestrians, and people in other vehicles.

Experts insist that the behaviour of stressed drivers depends on their coping capabilities. Generally, those who score high on aggression tests use direct confrontation strategies when faced with stress while driving. Driving presents many stresses because of high speeds and the actions of other drivers. As stress increases, the likelihood of a person exhibiting road rage increases dramatically. Typically, younger males are most susceptible to road rage with most reported cases of road rage occurring because of cutting in and out of traffic, lane changes, and disputes over parking spots or rude gestures.

In Malta, the constant unlimited increase in cars on our roads has led to many drivers getting impatient while driving in a slow-moving column – something that one can experience in all roads during the hours before people start work or before students and pupils are expected to be at school. Works in roads with ill-thought-out diversion signs continue to exacerbate the situation. Often diversion signs do not even exist and one has to drive through local roads while guessing which way to go.

Something needs to be done about this situation. The budget speech last Monday hardly refers to the traffic problem – except for a substantial decrease in spending on roads. It also mooted the possibility of banning the services by road vehicles before nine in the morning – a suggestion that will probably be opposed by many.

But then all the improvements of the road network carried out in the last ten years have hardly impacted the effect of the continual increase of vehicles on our roads.

Doing nothing about this will only increase the phenomenon of road rage with everybody arriving late for work in the mornings and late at home in the afternoons.


In search of our future

My piece last week about what the budget will not include was spot on.

Some weeks ago, the Minister responsible for finance, Clyde Caruana, correctly emphasised that a new economic model will be required for the next ten years. We cannot go on importing foreign labour and increasing the population artificially while overloading our infrastructure.

The budget speech delivered last Monday did not give an inkling of this new economic model for Malta. Instead Caruana presented Malta with just more of the same.

This is not to denigrate the improvement in social benefits and cost of living allowances that were announced in the budget speech. Some of these were sorely needed and these improvements showed that the administration is aware of the social problems that the lower earning end of the population is facing.

It also exposed the incredible overspending in the tourism sector. How the Ministry of Finance allowed the Malta Tourism Authority to go riot and spend as if the allocated money and budget are irrelevant is beyond me.

But these are annual short-term factors.

The government does not seem to know where it wants to go in the long term, even though it admits that we must search for a new road.

Perhaps creating a consultative committee with the task of making concrete proposals would help. Obviously, this committee would include representatives of constituted bodies, Trade Unions and other NGOs.

Otherwise, we might still be talking about it when the next election finds us with a population of 600,000 pushing for more of the same!