TWO 11-year-old girls were tragically killed in a car crash in the early hours of Sunday. Neither was wearing a seatbelt, and one of them was thrown out of the car, which capsized on the Nicosia-Limassol highway after the driver had lost control. What makes these deaths extremely difficult to accept was they could have been avoided if the girls were wearing seatbelts, something they were obliged to do by law, but not by the adult driving the car.
Six days earlier a five-year-old girl was killed when she was flung out of the car her father was driving after it collided with another car and capsized. She was obviously not wearing a seatbelt. On the same day, a 38-year-old man was killed in another car accident because, according to the police, he too was not wearing a seatbelt. These were another two possibly avoidable deaths caused because the most basic car safety rule – not to mention the law – was ignored by irresponsible adults.
“Seatbelts save lives,” said traffic police chief Spyros Spyrou, after Sunday’s tragic deaths. “Unfortunately, the police cannot work miracles; we cannot be in every car telling people to put on their seatbelts,” he added.
He was right up to a point. A driver has the main responsibility to ensure that children always wear a seatbelt in their car because they would be safer and because it is the law. The police cannot check every car on the streets to ensure everyone inside is wearing a seatbelt.
Road safety campaigns are held by police every few months, but these quite clearly do not have the desired effect. What is needed to change attitudes is a complete overhaul of the punitive measures for a traffic offender. All fines for traffic offences have to be increased substantially – doubled or tripled – if we are to improve road safety. A €600 fine imposed on a driver who has underage passengers in his car not wearing seat belts would ensure people start obeying the law and protecting their children. The fear of prohibitive fines is the only way to ensure compliance with the law. Having a few hundred policemen on the roads carrying out seatbelt checks for a fortnight and imposing the hefty fines on offenders will certainly work.
Of course, political decisions would have to be taken first, and our politicians unfortunately are not inclined to support unpopular measures such as hefty fines. The fact that our authorities have been dragging their feet over the introduction of speed cameras for a staggering 12 years is indicative of their aversion to unpopular measures, even if these would make our roads safer and save lives. Perhaps, the death of three children in six days – deaths that may well have been avoided if they were wearing seatbelts – would persuade the politicians of the urgent need for hefty fines and police clampdown on traffic offenders.