Driving etiquette can ease the traffic tension

By Jorg Sicot, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar

Viewed from any angle, the traffic situation is not about to vanish anytime soon, and we need to understand that we are in this together. Whether we like it or not.

We are the problem. Equally, we are the environment. And once we understand this, we can actually attempt different strategies to improve matters whilst we are smack bang in the middle of the problem.

Within the daily gridlock, we fret, we fume. The solutions proposed require intensive planning, infrastructural work and financial backing by the government, but sadly that is not going to happen within weeks or even months – just look how long it is taking to complete the Coast Road!

So what stops us from taking a deep breath, letting down the window, and exchanging a few pleasantries with the next car neighbour who is in exactly the same boat we are in, as we sit around waiting. The gridlock will not miraculously vanish, but the inner tension will. And that is contagious. That is a small step toward a better environment under the due circumstances.

Driver education is sorely lacking in Malta and this includes education in the Maltese sense of ‘edukazzjoni’ – i.e. manners! Small gestures go a long way. Yes, we need to get there fast, but then so does the new arrival pulling in from the left, needing to join the queue. Be generous, give him a slot. It makes us feel better, it makes him feel understood and respected. We are in this together, so let’s bear the situation with a light heart. What will have changed or improved if we exit the gridlock still bitter and stressed? Not much. Yet leaving it behind with a smile on our face does improve our immediate environment.

We are also helping if we make ourselves understood. Indicators, those charming little orange flashing lights, are always very helpful. Instead of bullying our way into traffic, hoping that others can somehow read our mind, use your indicator. It will help others to understand our intentions, allowing them to offer us that slot.

That long awaited roundabout is finally reached, releasing us from the knot. A clear understanding of the dynamics of roundabouts is imperative now. Make way for traffic coming from your right. Charging in, forcing others to brake, is dangerous and halts the flow. Keep to the speed of others in order to slip into a gap whilst allowing all to remain fluid. We are all in this together. More speedy choices to make, there and then – which lane in the roundabout do we stick to? Surely surfing the inner lane just before we need to dash out at the next exit will cause drama, causing us to swerve through traffic, no? That is not conducive to an improved immediate environment. 

And we Maltese love to hog the wrong lane, don’t we, cruising that right lane, oblivious to the traffic behind us. Our pace sets the speed for the rest, right? No. Fair play is sticking to the “slow” left lane and using the right lane to overtake that snail ahead of us, if necessary. That makes for good and respectful interaction in our traffic. After all, we are still in this together.

Activity in our smaller social circle is also sorely lacking. What stops us from car-pooling where possible? Apart from the obvious situations, like workers travelling to Valletta and Sliema at similar times from the same towns, or parents driving their children to one school from the same outward area, the less apparent solutions glare at us every weekend. One party, 20 people in 15 cars all arriving at the same venue?

True, it requires an extra effort, but in our world of mass communication, is it so difficult to communicate and combine our resources? 

How many of us have actually taken the time to understand how our public transport system operates, how we can make use of it to ease our frustration? And if we have, and found that the system is not tailored to our needs, why are we not flogging our councils, politicians and authorities to remedy that? After all, we are paying for that public transport system. The powers that be are not likely to take up an additional workload if we do not pressure them. We remain in this together, and it is vital that we become active together to undo the knot.

And together we can go a lot further yet. The traffic gridlock irritates us time and again and is set to get worse before it gets better but if the average citizen does not begin to pressure from below, then nothing will change. We all have local councillors whom we can grill. How are these councils communicating with MEPA, when new developments are in the pipeline? Are these councils evaluating and objecting to the traffic impacts coming their way with new developments in their localities? We all have access to the information of planned developments. Let us use that access to pressure our councils, our planning authorities, our government, to address the problems before they increase exponentially. Fuming, complaining on Facebook and losing our sanity helps little, if we do not confront those in command with our dissatisfaction. 

We are all in this together, by day and by night, so let us think collectively for once. To improve the situation for ourselves and others, not next year, but today. 

Jorg Sicot is a committee member of Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar