Road safety should start with data analysis

It is useless having all the education campaigns of this world and the best enforcement possible if politicians and their underlings in public authority decide to circumvent the very rules intended to ensure safety

Outrage, shock and panic are reasonable reactions when in just 10 months, 22 people die on our roads either because of car crashes or because they were run over.

And this figure does not even begin to scratch the surface of the countless other people who sustain debilitating injuries as a result of road accidents, with all the consequences this creates for the individual and their family.

The clamour to do something about this situation is justifiable, especially when Malta has invested heavily in modern, safer road infrastructure.

Each and every accident has its particular dynamics. From human error, to engine failure; from bad road design, to unsuitable road conditions; from reckless behaviour, to pure accident; from ill health, to ignorance of the rules… all of these can lead to accidents, fatal or otherwise.

Malta’s exponential increase in private cars also raises the probability of more accidents happening in our congested roads.

Motorists are mainly to blame but the actions and behaviours of pedestrians, cyclists, scooter users and other actors who use the road cannot be ignored. All road users have a responsibility to adhere to the rules.

Within this complex dynamic any action to improve road safety must kick off with a careful analysis of data.

The information does exist and is found in each and every magisterial inquiry that is launched whenever there is a fatality or serious accident. Unfortunately, however, this information is kept secret and not aggregated for proper analysis.

Beyond what people think happened in a particular accident, or what myth is peddled by people close to the victims or perpetrators to minimise their loved one’s culpability, the dynamics of a fatal accident are always established by experts contributing to the magisterial inquiries.

But this data is useless if it is left lying there on a shelf. There needs to be legislative intervention to ensure that road accident data gathered in the separate inquiries is passed on to the Road Safety Council for general analysis.

This analysis will give a better picture of what the accident weak spots are. The information can help inform the authorities on the type of educational campaigns they should emphasise. It can identify any problematic road designs that require intervention. It can inform the authorities on the best type of enforcement to be carried out and where it should be emphasised.

Making a case for data-driven decision-making may sound trivial in a context where outrage leads to calls for more police presence on the roads, more roadblocks, more breathalyser tests, higher fines and tougher punishments. But going down the road of tougher enforcement – which is probably one of the more important measures that need to be taken – without a proper understanding of what is causing these accidents and how, could be pouring invaluable resources down the wrong hole.

It is good that Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia will be taking steps to enshrine the Road Safety Council’s remit in law and tasking it to bring forward the process to update the road safety policy.

Farrugia’s announcement that a four-year investment of €35 million in a cycling network is also good news since it will give people opting for this alternative transport mode a safer environment.

It is important that the authorities take road safety seriously because lack of it can, in the worst-case scenario cause fatalities, and in its best scenario lead to medical, social and financial repercussions on the individual and the economy.

But all this has to be said within the context of what is coming out in court related to allegations of corruption regarding driving tests.

Evidence heard so far points towards systematic abuse with top Transport Malta officials asking examiners to ‘close an eye, sometimes two’ when examining select candidates.

This is not only criminal and unfair but also raises serious questions about road safety and the suitability of people who acquire a driving licence in this way.

Have any of those who passed the driving test in a fraudulent way been involved in road accidents? Who shall be responsible for granting them a licence when they were clearly unprepared for it?

This case is not only about political patronage that tries to accommodate the wishes of constituents but about the serious consequences of this irresponsible behaviour. In this case, political patronage can kill or maim. And politicians will be among the first to shed tears on social media when a constituent of theirs is run over, or dies in an unfortunate road accident. They will obviously say nothing about the fact that the perpetrator or the victim could potentially have obtained a driving licence in a fraudulent way through the same politician’s intervention.

It is useless having all the education campaigns of this world and the best enforcement possible if politicians and their underlings in public authority decide to circumvent the very rules intended to ensure safety.