There is only one way to make sure that there will be no other bully in Malta who decides to defy the height limitations and cause chaos in this country. Yes, because believe it or not this bully was a blessing in a way, as he has shown us that it is not true to state that Malta is prepared when disaster strikes.
If we got all the praise for the security in the Pope’s visit, we certainly must get all the blame for the way that the Aldo Moro bridge accident (Accident? What accident?) happened. Malta ground to a stanstill as a result of the acts of the bully: flights were cancelled, exams were cancelled, everybody became a prisoner at home or in his car.
Not the Civil Protection, nor the police, and not even the Minister responsible for both these entities, thought that the safety of the Maltese and their commitments warranted the same attention as the Pope’s visit to Malta.
With all respect, the proper place of Assistant Commissioner Josie Brincat was not on the street diverting traffic, but in his office giving instructions to his men on how to ease the traffic.
The Civil Protection Department did not lift a finger either, and we must thank our lucky stars that nobody was injured. In that busy, eight-lane road we were only spared a human tragedy by the Lord above. The case clearly demonstrated that we are not prepared for unexpected chaos.
If there was an example of how the Armed Forces, the Police and the Civil Protection are geared to work together in case of any mishap which may befall these islands, last Friday’s incident was one such example and the facts show that they were not able to come with a fast solution to the problem.
Because if this were not the case, how come Malta stopped for more than four hours, with no clear no strategy for the co-ordination and solution of the problem? It was a typical case of management by crisis, and it is a shame that those who are supposed to be there to make sense out of chaos failed. I find it hard to digest that they were unable to address the situation fast, and it is sad to conclude that any guru can stop Malta simply by hitting a bridge... and we are not talking terrorism here.
Thanks to the free-for-all system that we operate in this country, the driver of the excavator not only stalled Malta for more than four hours but thanks to his gross negligence we now have to wait until Triq Dicembru 13 is open for traffic meaning that the people of the south have to wake up earlier and be put under more pressure to reach their destinations during the rush hour.
The press reported that traffic from Valletta to Cottonera is to pass from Albert Town and exit from the Marsa Shipbuilding area; traffic from Valletta to Zurrieq, Zejtun, Birzebbuga, etc., is to pass from the Imghalaq roundabout, Qormi – meaning more chaos for the residents of Zebbug, Qormi and Siggiewi.
And Transport Malta? All it did was watch until the chaos was mitigated on Friday. Then, two days later, it issued a statement telling us that its architects and civil engineers are assessing the damage, urging us to avoid the area or to seek alternative routes: preferably through Albert Town for southbound traffic and through Luqa/Qormi for northbound traffic.
And the driver? The driver was allowed to go free, to pull off another stunt any time he likes. He was not arrested, which means that even the authorities are taking the thing very lightly. This is not a question of negligence, but of gross negligence because the driver should have known the height of the bridges and tunnels he would be passing on his itinerary. Not only that, but the pictures indicate that he was speeding as well.
In other countries, braking and handling of these vehicles are taken very seriously, and one of the rules is that they have to attach to their windscreen the height and the length of their vehicle. They are also restricted as to hours of the day when they can use such vehicles, as well as routes they are allowed to take. They also must be escorted by traffic police in order to ensure the safety of all. Such vehicles must have a system of rollover stability, in order to reduce the possibility of the truck or trailer to slide or ‘jack-knife’. It is a disgrace to watch such heavy vehicles enter our capital city, without any escort, 24/7!
This is not the first time that such incidents have happened. A few months ago I was coming down from Porte de Bombes and again, there was a long-haul trailer which hit another car coming down when it was bending to come towards ‘Bombi’ from Pieta.
There are no rules on rear-view mirrors and supplementary indirect vision systems, either, although EU directive 2003/97/EC, as subsequently amended by Directive 2005/27/EC, makes this mandatory.
Again the authorities, notwithstanding that such incident could have had more serious repercussions, did not lift a finger to amend the Highway Code and laws regarding heavy goods vehicles when it is a known fact that these vehicles are over-involved in fatal crashes, since their high mass leads to severe consequences for other road users in the event of collision.
A legal obligation exists in Belgium and the Netherlands for retrofitting existing trucks with blind spot mirrors or cameras. The European Union has set up technical standards on heavy good vehicles, but they are still optional. The EU considers heavy vehicles those with a total weight above 3,500kg (vehicle +load). However discussion is under way to bring trucks and buses into the EU Whole Vehicle Type Approved System, alongside cars and motorcycles.
Still the driver must be brought to book and it is a shame for the authorities to undermine the gravity of the incident. People are arrested for far more trivial things and so far the press has not reported that the driver was interrogated by the police, and that charges would be pressed against him. The police at times waste our money in opening the courts on weekends (because every time you hear that the court was opened ‘b’urgenza’, it means that thousands of euros are spent from taxpayers’ money) when cases can wait till Monday.
This is a case when the Police would have been justified in arraigning the driver on weekends, and charging him with causing damages worth millions of euros – because the damages that he has caused to the economy of this country, to the people who had to travel, to those who could not go and take their food to their old relatives at San Vincent de Paule hospital, to the students who have to reschedule the exams that they missed, to the damages to the bridge... all of this runs into the millions.