OPINION | Sunday, 25 November 2007

Shame on ADT!


So the traffic accidents have increased by five per cent between July and September, and we should thank our lucky stars that there have not been more and much more serious. We have had 4,211 traffic accidents only in these past three months: four people killed, 36 seriously injured and 187 suffering from slight injuries.
The Malta Transport Authority (ADT) is the authority responsible for the safety of our roads, and notwithstanding the fines that we are made to pay in contraventions for over-speeding, it seems that money is not acting as a sufficient deterrent.
Although the minimum penalty for driving without a licence and insurance is Lm1,000, the number of people driving without a licence and insurance is still on the increase. So there is something wrong in the law somewhere and it is high time that ADT does something about it, and fast.
What are the measures that one expects from ADT? Let me start with my last point about driving without a license and insurance. It seems that the courts do not suffice to deter this abuse and I am afraid to say that there are parents who actually go about boasting about their son or daughter who is capable of driving a car or even a truck although still under 18. Little do these parents realise that their children can be instruments of death and that by driving under age they can kill somebody or leave them maimed for the rest of his life.
Why, in small villages such as ours, neither police nor ADT nor wardens are able to detect these young drivers, I cannot tell. But what I do know is that is should no longer be a cushy excuse for every parent who is summoned in court to say that their son or daughter took the car without their consent. This chorus must stop, and the way to stop it is not only to arraign the parent, but also the minor: minors must be made accountable for their actions too, and if summoned for damages, they must make good for these damages together with their parents who licensed them to break the law, and to hurt themselves and other people.
Another measure we expect from ADT is to make the identity tag of our drivers in public buses, private coaches and minibuses compulsory. I was told by a colleague who happened to be present in one of the sittings of the local tribunal in Fgura, where an ADT official testified that although the identity tags are compulsory by law, ADT has given instructions to these drivers not to necessarily wear the tag. How ADT considers itself above the law is something beyond belief. So we have a situation where the local wardens summon these drivers for not wearing the tag, and then the ADT testify in their defence because it has ruled that such tags are not compulsory.
But why must these tags be compulsory? First of all, because the public must know that the driver to whom they are entrusting their safety is fully licensed. Secondly, parents of schoolchildren can set their mind at rest that the driver and the bus or school van is fully insured and licensed; and thirdly, to ensure that such driver does not have any case or suspicion of child molestation. We have had minibus accidents, involving schoolchildren, where the driver turned out to be uninsured; there have also been cases of drivers molesting schoolchildren.
But lo and behold, the ADT has still not thought fit to ensure that all drivers wear their identity tag when on duty. Worse still, not even the parents lift a finger in this regard; and I cannot understand how they leave their children in the hands of drivers without first ensuring that those drivers are all fully licensed and fully insured. And even worse are the schools which engage the services of these transport companies without requesting the list of drivers who will be providing the service, together with the license number, etc.
The ADT must also try to resolve the saga of transfer of vehicles. We are inundated with cases in court where vehicles have been sold, but on paper the transfer never materialised because the buyer refused to transfer the car in his name. Not only is the person who sold the car being inundated with fines for contraventions that he has not committed, and summoned in court for failing to transfer the car, but worse still, the ADT will not allow him to strike off the car from his name because there is no signature of the other party.
Just imagine if you were the seller in these cases: the buyer is using his (previously your) car, uninsured, and cool and relaxed in the knowledge that you will have to pay for what he does: be it fines and be it damages. I recently had a case of a person who received over LM3,000 in fines for a car he had previously sold. He insisted with the police to have the car towed away because it was uninsured; but the police kept telling him that they do not call on the owner of the car, but rather on the car itself. They therefore expected him to inform when he spots the car in the street so that they could come and tow it away. Needless to add, the car is still not transferred to its new owner, and is still being driven uninsured in the streets even though action has been taken by the police against the buyer.
In these cases, the court ought to order the towing of the vehicle there and then, once it is satisfied that it is not insured and that is has not been transferred, irrespective of whether the accused is present or not. I know that in these cases, the accused has to be present for the court to take any action; but in matters of live and death, the law is an ass. In this case and ADT must ensure that the law is amended so that this remedial action will be taken even before charges are issued.
Just in case you did not know, the ADT officials have the same power as the traffic police and the local wardens. They can fine somebody on the spot and take him to court for disobeying his orders. The public should be informed about this by ADT because the public perception is that the ADT officials are there only for taxis, coaches, buses and minibuses. And speaking of ADT officials, it would not be amiss to point out that when they issue “No Parking” instructions, they ought to at least issue these instructions properly signed and on official letterheads – not on a piece of A4 paper stuck to a piece of wood in a tomato paste tin, and then expect the public to know that that is an official ADT notice.
And to add insult to injury, they can arraign you in court for not abiding by that notice, even though there is no indication that the same notice has the ADT approval.
Another point which the ADT must take into account is the drinking and driving problem. Why have all the breathalyzer tests stopped? The enthusiasm that there was in the beginning, when the breathalyzers were introduced, has now dwindled to the point that there is no control on drinking and driving. Meanwhile the police, who seem to be the only force in possession of breathalyzers, take action only when there is a traffic accident and any of the drivers involved smells of alcohol.
Last but not least, I cannot not mention the karozzini which seem to have a licence to pass wrong ways (at least, this is what a magistrate told the prosecuting officer in a traffic sitting lately), a license to use all roads at all times, a license to drive the horse-drawn carriage without the need of any identification tag. They can also be a hazard on our roads and regulations about the safe use of cabs must be introduced as soon as possible.
Even pedestrians must be made accountable: it is not true that pedestrians are always right. They must be fined when they cross where they are not supposed to and signs where they can cross and walk must be made, especially in the busy arteries, for their own safety and for the safety of the drivers and the passengers.
I remember way back in 1989, when I was studying in Canada, people would be fined 30 Canadian dollars on the spot for crossing the street where there are no “cross and walk” signs.
The ADT are entrusted with our safety on our roads and we expect the ADT to live to its mission statement.

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