Killing the Speed | Josie Brincat

Alcohol-related accidents are a major concern all over the world. And Malta is no exception. DUNCAN BARRY speaks to Transport Malta consultant and former Assistant Commissioner of Police Josie Brincat on Malta’s drink-driving legislative measures

Transport Malta consultant and former Assistant Commissioner Josie Brincat
Transport Malta consultant and former Assistant Commissioner Josie Brincat

"The precautionary steps one must take to avoid drink driving has yet to permeate Maltese society," Josie Brincat, former Assistant Commissioner of Police, and currently consultant at Transport Malta, says.

Brincat claims that "the main contributing factors related to drink driving accidents is more often than not, speed: overspeeding at nighttime or in the early hours of the morning when roads are deserted, when one tends to be careless and more selfish than usual.

"Unfortunately, us Maltese, although being very kind-hearted, are very undisciplined and fail to think of our loved ones who are eagerly waiting for us at home."

I ask Brincat to specify what the age bracket normally associated with alcohol-related accidents is.

"The 18-28 age bracket is mostly prone to drink driving-related accidents. However, accidents of this nature may be due to the aftermath of seasonal activities such as village feasts ('xalata', field day), the Christmas period or football celebrations, but unfortunately, in my opinion, these accidents generally occur throughout the whole year.

"Some of us don't have the discipline to stop and think for a moment before driving. We must relax and enjoy ourselves in a responsible way."

Brincat adds that "there's another category of drivers: the so-called 'kings of the road', comprising experienced drivers, who think they can handle any situation they may come across while driving drunk. But this is certainly not the case.

"Once an individual is drunk, whoever it may be, one's reflexes are reduced drastically while alcohol can also impair our vision.

"When one is driving under the influence of alcohol, he or she won't have the ability to see clearly and anticipate other drivers' mistakes.

"People driving under the influence of alcohol, or drugs (another factor related to traffic accidents), wouldn't even consider wearing a seatbelt in the first place, let alone hesitate to answer a mobile phone. The media more often than not, reports that the driver 'lost control of his vehicle' while failing to  state how.

"But most of the time, losing control of a vehicle means that there was the over-speeding factor.

But does Brincat think that alcohol is always a main factor behind most reported accidents?

"Apart from drunk drivers, I have dealt with cases of people who were overtired and slept at the wheel, and drivers taking certain medication.

"Traffic accidents may also come as a result of pedestrians' mistaken attitudes."

I ask Brincat if nowadays, youths are more confined to party in places where police presence is the order of the day, unlike the past when teenagers used to party 'underground'.

"During the 1990s, when I was in the Police Force, we used to have a generation going 'underground' in terms of partying, organising parties in private premises which summed up to a cocktail of adventures, spiced even further with music.

"Nowadays, parties are organised in more concentrated areas where police presence is stronger, working as a major deterrent."

And has Transport Malta embarked on aany drink driving campaigns recently?

"Just last week, Transport Malta participated in a conference on speed policies because unfortunately the deaths on our roads keep on rising. It's not only the authorities that should play a role but people must enter a culture of self-regulations too. As an authority, we are constantly looking at possibilities to reduce deaths on our roads."

On our current legislative measures, Brincat says that the breathalyser is one good measure that has been implemented so far. The effectiveness of this system has proved successful.

However, I tell Brincat that only 183 tests were performed last year, according to official police statistics.

Brincat says that medical staff can also help by reporting patients who have consumed a generous amount of alcohol and are admitted to hospital following an accident.

"Medical staff should feel duty-bound to report such cases to the district police to investigate further. And this is being highlighted by somebody who isn't a law enforcer any longer. Once it is scientifically established that a person admitted to hospital was driving under the influence of alcohol, the medical authorities should inform the police."

Normally we speak of police presence and enforcement as a deterrent. I ask Brincat what else can be done to prevent people from drinking and driving?

"Enforcement to me is issuing charges and taking perpetrators to court. But the most important factor is educating people.

"Transport Malta gives lectures on the dangers of alcohol to primary, secondary and University students, and even kindergarten pupils, and am sure the police authorities do the same.

"As the saying goes: spare the rod and spoil the child: it's our obligation to educate by distinguishing right from wrong. But it's also the obligation of a civil society to abide by the regulations. There also needs to be a deterrent however. It's useless being taken before a tribunal or court of law and being leniently dealt with.

"In the UK for instance, if found guilty, more often than not one is faced with imprisonment. In Malta it seems to be the exception not the rule."

Despite reports in the press about several major car accidents, does Brincat think enough is being done regarding precautionary measures?

Brincat says that we still find people up and about at 6am in entertainment hubs such as Paceville, still partying and going home around that time and who are still under the influence of alcohol.

"And this does not apply in terms of driving only. Even if one is working on machinery, the effect of alcohol could also be a dangerous element. Some people tend to go straight to work after a night of partying. Obviously, our reflexes won't be as sharp."

Brincat was behind a drive during New Year's Eve of 2010, which resulted in hardly any accidents reported.

"I believe that this drive is still being followed by my former colleagues."

Brincat recalls: "In my days as a police officer, I used to be out together with my colleagues well before youths were flocking to their venues, so that they would be aware that on their way back home they were still going to find me there!"

On clamping down on drink drivers, Brincat says that "maybe one might consider whether this can also be extended to local wardens who can also be given the right to perform breathalyser tests".

Brincat's advice is that "if anyone is going out to party and knows that he or she is going to consume alcohol, forget about driving.

"Car-pooling can be a good option."

Brincat was responsible for protective services within the Malta Police Force comprising the traffic branch, SAG, ALE, and Control Room.

During his role as an Assistant Commissioner, Brincat has witnessed that the 18 to 28 age bracket are most prone to traffic accidents of this nature.

However, Brincat adds that "then again, one has to think about senior citizens in the 80-year-old bracket, because their reflexes will be far more slower. I could be one of them for all I know," he jokes.

Kemm huma ghorrief l-ahwa. Ili snin shah jien nikteb li facli nsolvu parti kbira mill-problema tad-dizastri fit-toroq: Speed cameras mohbija u overspeeding jew issuq bil-mobile f'idejk 5000 ewro multa. It-tieni darba konfiska tal-vetturi. Fittxu fil-gazzetti kollha u taraw partita ittri f'dan is-sens.