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Irrational rationalisation - Jean Karl Soler

Rationalisation is the cognitive process of making something seem consistent with, or to be based on, reason. If one is not strictly rational in one’s approach, such a process may simply make an opinion seem consistent with reality, rather than actually making it so. We should not refute facts which conflict with our world view simply to justify our predetermined opinion. This would simply be irrational.

Over the years, I have written many letters to the Times of Malta, many times indignant about a misrepresentation of facts, or an outright lie. I have corrected the reporting of a grossly inflated prevalence rate for diabetes in Malta. I have written about the utility of strategically placed crash barriers to prevent deaths and injuries due to roadside obstacles, notably trees and electricity poles.

I have written about the fourfold increased risk of injury or death for two-wheeled as against four-wheeled vehicles, with the risk being even greater when the rider is involved in a solo accident.

I have factually disproved the outright lie that local road death rates are high, or are increasing over time.

I have questioned interventions to reduce our speed limits, already the lowest in the world, and to introduce similar measures without hard evidence and scientific studies of effectiveness.

And yet, despite recent cases which have (unfortunately) proven me absolutely right, such as the recent accidents with roadside trees and cyclists on major roads, it seems as if most correspondents persist in their disassociation with reality.

A collaboration of NGOs is petitioning against the removal of roadside trees, even those that are manifestly evident death traps for motorists. By all means save trees, but human life is even more precious.

Incredibly, the movement is petitioning for more traffic jams now to prevent future traffic jams.

The argument presented is that any new road, or any upgrade of existing roads, will increase pollution. The fact that an efficient road network will improve traffic flow and allow cars to burn fuel much more efficiently is conveniently ignored. Who needs facts when one can shout opinions loud enough to drown them out?

This irrational movement views any upgrade of our road network, classified by the European Commission as the worst in Europe (excluding Romania), as something to resist. Should our roads indeed remain the worst? Should even these inadequate roads be destroyed, narrowed further or converted to pedestrian spaces?

Wake up to the facts, please.

Bicycles have no place on major roads, weaving through fast traffic. Increasing bicycle use will necessarily increase road deaths

The fact is that major roads which appropriately facilitate higher vehicle speeds in safety are a mainstay of European transportation strategies, and have been so since the 1930s. Such roads are the safest in the world, and yet they carry the largest volume of the fastest traffic.

Those who want our dangerous roads to remain, or be further restricted in efficiency, should understand that this strategy of inaction has had absolutely no effect in reducing traffic in the past. Their opinions are completely disassociated from reality. If it did not work in the past, why do you still believe the lie?

Columnist Martin Scicluna now joins the movement of misinformation on road safety. He states that road deaths in Malta are on the increase and that something must be done. If Malta has the lowest speed limits in the world and the safest European drivers with the best road safety statistics, where is the fire?

We have introduced speed cameras and licence points systems with, as yet, no effect (neither positive nor negative) on road injury or death rates. Evidently, someone has got the pseudo-science horribly wrong. Yet the pseudo-prophets continue to play Jesus to their imaginary lepers.

I have repeatedly shown, mathematically, that the road death rates and injury rates in Malta are stable and absolutely not increasing.

May Scicluna kindly reassess my mathematical calculations, especially my standard deviation calculations, and come up with his own figures?

Can someone, anyone, offer an alternative calculation of the range of variability of road injury and death rates in Malta year on year, and how much variability can be reasonably assumed to be due to chance?

It is not speed that is the problem, but inappropriate speed. I must credit Scicluna for picking that one up correctly.

Transport Malta statistics are evidence that a major problem with road safety today is posed by two-wheeled vehicles travelling at inappropriate speed (which may be completely appropriate for four-wheeled vehicles) on major roads.

Roadside obstacles which pose a real and present danger must be immediately removed or cordoned off with crash barriers. The major focus of road safety campaigns should be preventing drivers from falling asleep at the wheel after a long night out on the weekend.

Bicycles have no place on major roads, weaving through fast traffic. Increasing bicycle use will necessarily increase road deaths: bicycles are four to five times more dangerous than motor vehicles.

The desirable reduction of traffic-generated pollution shall never be effected with an inefficient road network. It shall be effected by the imminent replacement of the internal combustion engine with one running on alternative fuels. Hydrogen is probably the real solution.

The sooner we stop ignoring the facts, the sooner we will find effective solutions to our problems.

Jean Karl Soler is a medical doctor and researcher with an interest in road safety.

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