Sudden impact | Mario Bezzina

Picturing the harsh consequences one can leave on both himself and his family is enough to reconsider driving while drunk. Mario Bezzina, a father whose son ended up in the Intensive Care Unit (ITU) following a car accident just under seven weeks ago, tells DUNCAN BARRY that drinking laws need to be ruled with a tight fist.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a leading factor of road accidents. And driving in deserted roads in the early hours after a night out can tempt a driver to step on the gas a little harder.

"Preventing the potential disaster as a result of drink driving will require a lot more than sobriety checkpoints, speed cameras, and public service awareness campaigns.

"Because the real solution starts at the spot where each of us is standing or sitting, right now with a commitment to be responsible and not drive if impaired.

"And even though the decision to get drunk may be your business, taking it to the streets is everybody's business."

In a nutshell, this was Mario Bezzina's interpretation of drink driving.

Mario's son was involved in a car accident in Attard, which landed him at Mater Dei's Intensive Care Unit just under seven weeks ago.

"You never know what's round the corner, literally," Karl's clearly  concerned father says.

According to his father, his 30-year-old son is the founder of Honda Club Malta. Karl was involved in a car accident just 100 metres away from his home where he lives together with the rest of his family "after spending a night out", and is still recovering in intensive care.

"Karl has been in the ITU ever since and as a result, our whole family has been to hell and back," Joseph says.

Karl's family has been waiting hours on end in the waiting area outside the ITU for the past seven weeks, eagerly awaiting his recovery.

Mario is not ruling out that the flash of the speed camera in Attard, which captures over-speeding motorists from opposing directions, was a contributing factor to his son's crash.

"It could have blinded him for a split second, leading him to lose control of his vehicle which crashed head-on into a pole, outside one of the houses alongside Nutar Zarb Street. We live on the same side of the road where Karl crashed into an electricity pole.

But I ask Mario whether this theory is justified, since cameras normally point at the registration number of a vehicle and not directly to the motorist.

"I have been informed that the flash of a speed camera is normally taken from the back of a car, however, in Attard's case, the camera captures the car from the front, since only one camera is used to capture drivers coming from opposing directions."

I ask Mario if the police ruled out his theory.

"The police said nothing about my theory but my son was driving at 58kms when the limit is 50. Let's face it, 58 is nothing drastic."

I ask Mario if he thinks that our drinking laws are far too lax and if he felt that existing laws were hardly being enforced despite the many alcohol-related accidents reported in the press, especially after weekends.

With official police statistics revealing that a mere 183 breathalyser tests were performed last year, Mario says that the figure is obviously too low considering the thousands of youths that flock to places of entertainment like Paceville.

"183 tests should be performed every weekend, if you ask me.

"We all know that although drink driving laws keep getting enacted, they are not being enforced how they should be. I mean, the number of breathalyser tests performed says it all.

"And this is not just Paceville I am on about, but it's also about people driving after having attended a wedding or feast or some other kind of celebration."

Mario recounts the day of the accident: "I had just got out of bed at 5.55am and Karl's mother, Monica, was still in bed.

"Monica told me she thought she had heard the phone ring which was in a separate room. "By the time I got to the phone it had stopped ringing. Something led me to Karl's room.  The phone rang again and a policeman requested that I go to hospital since my son had been involved in an accident but had no details on the nature of injuries my son might have sustained.

"The policeman asked me to get someone to attend to my son's damaged car in the same street where we live while I attend to my son.

"Worried sick, I ran out of the house and on seeing my son's car, I calmed down a little since the damage the car had incurred didn't look all that bad. Besides, the policeman who was stationed beside the car told me I could have the car towed.

"I've been told, because I haven't ever been involved in anything of this sort, that when a bad accident occurs, an inquiring magistrate is called to the scene, followed by an inquiry. And once the police asked me to remove the car, it led me to think that the situation wasn't as bad as I was imagining."

However, it later transpired that in fact the car had to be towed to the police compound for further investigation, only to be released the next day.

I asked Mario if driving to the hospital that morning was the longest trip of his life.

"When we got to hospital my son was sitting upright and had no visible external injuries - breathing a sigh of relief.

"However, after being examined, he was immediately transferred to ITU since the doctors found he was suffering from internal grievous injuries due to the impact of the collision.

"This could have happened because on impact, my son's body reached the steering wheel before the airbags had ejected: he was either too close to the steering wheel or the impact occurred fast and within a short distance. In fact, there were no visible brake marks at all."

Karl suffered from a severe laceration to his feeding tube leading to the intestines - considered a grievous injury in the medical field.

A delicate operation after he was admitted to hospital was performed in order to allow surgeons to reconstruct an external tube to cover the damaged tube and to avoid spillage from the original tube to the bowels, which could cause a fatal infection.

"The healing process could take up to nine months, and in the meantime my son's condition remains critical."

Mario only had postive things to say about Mater Dei's Hospital staff. "Mater Dei's staff have been tremendously helpful. They have been great all along.

"I was also told by my shocked neighbour who initially heard the sound of the impact and called the ambulance to the scene that the paramedic team arrived in no time."

Mario insists that youths should share car journeys (through the use of mini-vans or taxis) so that more than one person travels in a car which helps reduce traffic, and as a result, accidents.

"What amazes me most," Mario says, "is that nowadays youths spend a considerable amount of money on alcohol, yet they are too stingy to pay for a safe lift back home".

After this is all over, Mario intends to embark on some form of campaign highlighting "our lax laws" where driving under the influence of alcohol has become part of our lifestyle.

But how does he intend do this?

"I haven't thought about it yet since my son is still in hospital but the minute he's out I will ask for professional help as I wish there would be some sort of enforcement, even if the need arose, that us parents will be directly involved by creating more awareness among lawmakers: not just by enacting laws, but seeing that the laws are in fact enforced."

I asked Mario what he thinks of our drink-driving culture.

"I may sound biased since I am not a drinker, however I think that there should be more enforcement of existing laws and more awareness campaigns.

"On the other hand, it's very irresponsible for somebody to drive under the influence of alcohol and forget about his/her family who may be worried waiting at home all night.

"I tend to believe that when youths are enjoying themselves, they forget about everybody and everything and fail to realise the negative impact an accident can have on both their lives and their family's if a wrong decision is taken."

There are many bars around the Island where heavy drinking occurs especially on Sunday mornings and afternoons. I have watched people in a particular seaside village where bar patrons as we say in Maltese 'ma jarawx art' who then drove away cars,without worrying about being caught the police as it seems that breathalyser tests are limited to places like Paceville and only on special occasions - 183 breathalyser tests tells it all.