Engaging policy makers and youth in Malta to slow down and save lives

WHO

On 11 May 2017, a workshop held in St Julian’s, Malta, brought a wide range of stakeholders from government, nongovernmental organizations and civil society together with youth to mark the 4th United Nations Global Road Safety Week. The 140 participants gathered to focus on road safety and managing speed in Malta.

Road traffic crashes are responsible for more than 84 000 premature deaths annually in the WHO European Region, and are the leading killer of young people aged 5–29 years. While the majority of countries in the Region report falling death rates from traffic crashes, Malta is one of only 8 countries that report an increase.

Speaking at the opening of the workshop, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta, said, “We cannot allow road injuries and fatalities to become part of our national status quo. … We must continue doing everything we can to ensure that the precious lives of our people, particularly our young ones, are safeguarded, and that their well-being is at the top of all our policy agendas.”

Road safety is a priority of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with Sustainable Development Goal target 3.6 aiming to reduce road traffic injury deaths by 50% by 2020 (from 2010 levels).

Opening a dialogue on multisectoral action to save young lives

The workshop programme included presentations by Dr Dinesh Sethi, Programme Manager for Violence and Injury Prevention at WHO/Europe, and Dr Charmaine Gauci, Superintendent of the Ministry of Health of Malta.

Dr Sethi focused on tackling the problem of speeding in the Region, emphasizing that speed is at the core of the road traffic injury problem. He cited the fact that 1 in 3 deaths in high-income countries is due to speed, yet only 23 countries in the Region have a comprehensive urban speed law.

Dr Gauci provided a Maltese perspective on road injuries, noting that – while Malta has one of the lowest rates of road fatalities among European countries – more work is needed to halt a rise in deaths from road crashes. The National Statistics Office of Malta reported a 32% increase in road fatalities in 2016.

The programme continued with a panel discussion on how sectors can work together to save young lives. Panellists included representatives from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Education and the insurance industry, as well as a youth representative. In the plenary that followed, an animated discussion underscored the need for multisectoral collaboration on road safety, and the importance of not only enacting road safety measures but also strengthening enforcement.

Commemorating lives lost

In the most powerful and compelling session of the workshop, 3 women shared their personal experiences of losing a loved one in a road traffic accident. Two of the speakers were mothers who lost children to road crashes. The third recounted losing her husband and the father of her young children. WHO/Europe staff member Dr Lucianne Licari was one of the mothers to share her story about losing her daughter, Tara Malou Licari. The Tara Malou Licari Fund, a charity established in her memory, was the main sponsor of the workshop in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

These personal accounts brought the purpose of the conference into sharp focus and added an air of urgency to the day’s proceedings.

Prioritizing youth engagement

Following these moving presentations, the workshop offered a chance for the 60 youth participants to take on policy-maker roles in a simulated debate about challenges and opportunities related to road safety. In plenary, the youth reported back on their experiences and shared a statement calling for “strong, coordinated, whole-of-government and whole-of-society action to reduce the dangers of speed on the roads”. They welcomed the Valletta Declaration on Road Safety, signed by transport ministers from the European Union on 29 March 2017.

Youth also read out a declaration on slowing down to save lives for Global Road Safety Week. They expressed concern at some of the negative trends in road safety witnessed in Malta, and called upon policy-makers and law-enforcement officials to undertake a range of actions. These included:

  • giving greater priority to road safety by taking stronger action to control the dangers of speed;
  • reducing urban speed limits to a maximum of 50 km/h and to less than 30 km/h when a mix of road users is present as a means of protecting pedestrians and cyclists;
  • establishing speed limits to the function of each road;
  • ensuring better enforcement of speed laws to reduce road traffic injuries;
  • ensuring better enforcement on the use of mobile phones while driving;
  • building or modifying existing roads to include features that calm traffic;
  • including smarter signage on roads;
  • investing in public transport and physically active transport to provide opportunities for less reliance on cars;
  • providing incentives that ensure more cars have in-vehicle technologies such as intelligent speed assistance and autonomous emergency braking; and
  • continuing campaigns targeting youth and novice drivers to raise awareness about the dangers of speeding.

“I believe that we need to intensify [road safety awareness] efforts with our children and young people, and this necessarily means including road safety issues within their curriculum,” said President Preca. “It is encouraging to note that today’s workshop is prioritizing engagement with young people.”

The workshop concluded with an endorsement of the youth statement and a commitment from key stakeholders to report back on progress made in a year’s time. The youth statement will be shared with the Road Safety Council for consideration. Participants of all ages and from all sectors agreed that the workshop had been an important and productive step towards improving Malta’s road safety management.