NICOSIA district court yesterday sentenced a young man to a year in prison for causing the death of another young man, three years ago, through reckless and dangerous driving. It was a high-profile case because the accused happened to be the son of the current president of the House Demetris Syllouris. There has been much public debate about the case, but most of it has centred on whether the accused would be given a custodial sentence; now the debate has moved to whether the punishment meted out was adequate.
However, the debate missed the real issue which is what the authorities have been doing to make Cyprus’ roads safer. The short answer is ‘not enough’. The common practice is for the police to carry out alco-tests on drivers at night-time (now there are supposed to be narco-tests as well) and set up speed traps on highways; speed bumps are also placed on busy roads. While these measures make roads safer, to an extent, they are quite clearly not enough and the police are aware of it.
Transport minister Marios Demetriades admitted that more had to be done and on Tuesday spoke about the need “to take the next big step.” Getting to the next level of road safety could only be achieved by installing speed cameras, he said. He was absolutely right, but why is this taking so long? The Papadopoulos government had speed cameras installed for a few months, some 10 years ago, but these were removed after a dispute with the company that had installed them and absolutely nothing has been done since.
On Tuesday Demetriades said he hoped that some speed cameras would be installed next year and “the project could be fully implemented between 2018 and 2019.” The project “should at least start in 2017 to establish the foundations that we can build on towards gradual implementation.” This almost sounds like a joke. Why would three years be needed to install speed cameras on our roads? Why does the whole project have to be gradual? Could it be that the government is reluctant to go ahead because it would be an unpopular measure that would spark driver discontent?
This was the experience of Engomi municipality which took the initiative of placing to such cameras on Grivas Dighenis avenue which was often used for late-night racing by young drivers. When drivers who exceeded the speed limit during the day started being fined there was an outcry and the mayor suggested not operating the cameras during the day. It would not be a surprise if the unpopularity of cameras may have contributed to the feet-dragging of the authorities and Demetriades’ decision to go for “gradual implementation.”
But people are being killed on our roads – 57 died in 2015 and 377 were seriously injured – which would be made safer by installing speed cameras. The measure should be treated as a top priority rather than one for “gradual implementation.”