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Our View: Only way to get drivers to ‘Think’ is increase penalties

Nicolaou launching the campaign on Monday

Every few months the justice ministry or the police start a new campaign aimed at improving road safety. On Monday Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou unveiled the latest road safety campaign titled ‘Think’ and said it was targeting young drivers. In the past week four people were killed on the roads, three of them under 25, while the total for the year so far is 48.

Nicolaou said this was a “targeted communications strategy” focusing “our actions mainly on young drivers.” The message of the campaign was to ‘think’ of the consequences of risky driving decisions. “Think before you allow your friend who drank to drive,” or “think what will happen if you crash your motorcycle and are not wearing a helmet.” These are strong messages that need to be put across, but whether they will have the desired effect is another matter.

In presenting the campaign, Nicolaou referred to a study that found Cypriot drivers are impatient, careless, irresponsible, always in a hurry and rude. These are not the type of driver qualities that contribute to good road behaviour and it is difficult to see how a campaign would make a driver less impatient, irresponsible and rude. These traits exist before a person gets into a car and they are merely displayed in the way he drives. Short of forcing the young to undergo a personality test as part of the process for the issuing of a driving licence there is little the authorities could do to make the young exhibit good road manners.

The only way to improve road safety, as we have written on many occasions in the past, is to increase the fines and penalty points for traffic violations. The justice ministry has recognised that the fear of a big fine is the only thing that would make drivers ‘think’ about speeding and driving recklessly and will increase penalties for traffic violations. The new fines have already been decided and should be introduced pretty soon.

The fear of a big fine and penalty points that would lead to an automatic driving ban is the only thing that would discipline drivers and especially young ones. If, for instance the police wanted to eliminate drunken driving it could introduce an automatic driving ban for anyone that fails a breathalyser test. That would drastically cut the number of people prepared to get into the driver’s seat after consuming alcohol.

Communications strategies and campaigns aimed at creating road safety awareness among drivers and changing their profile might work in the long run – the message could eventually sink in if it is repeated often enough – but the introduction of tougher penalties will ensure more immediate results.

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