MORE than 20 deaths on the roads last year could have been avoided had the driver or passenger worn a seatbelt.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) said 19pc of victims of fatal road collisions involving the occupants of cars or vans were not buckled up when they died in 2013, an increase on previous years.
And it confirmed that the numbers killed on our roads had risen for the first time in five years, with 190 fatalities in 2013 -- up 28 on 2012.
The lack of seatbelts highlighted the "devastating impact" of a collision where drivers and passengers were offered no protection, and an emphasis on seatbelt wearing was required, it said.
The figures come after RSA chairman Gay Byrne blamed cutbacks in garda funding for the rise in fatalities, saying there was a perception that gardai were not enforcing road traffic laws. He added that motorists had "dropped their guard" and returned to the dangerous behaviours which caused so many fatal and serious injuries.
"We have consistently warned that the greatest danger we face on the roads is complacency and unfortunately in 2013 we have, as a society, dropped our guard," he said.
"As a result we have managed to kill 27 more people this year compared to last. It's a stark way to put it, but it's the truth. It represents a very worrying development and highlights the need for all road users to be more vigilant."
But his comments on a lack of enforcement were rejected by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who said while the higher death toll was "very worrying", there was not a direct link between garda numbers and deaths.
"The figures are still relatively low by historical standards but for the first time in a long time they're going in the wrong direction," Mr Varadkar said.
"We'd all like to see more enforcement and gardai on the roads but resources are limited and the Garda Commissioner has to make his decisions in that regard.
"It is also important to bear in mind that in 2010 we had the peak number of traffic gardai, and yet many more people died on the roads so it's not a direct correlation.
"The vast majority of fatal collisions and serious injuries are caused by driver behaviour. People have to not speed, wear their seatbelt and never, ever drink and drive or use drugs or a mobile phone while driving."
Fianna Fail's transport spokesman Timmy Dooley said a strong visible garda presence saved lives, and that more resources should be allocated.
The figures produced by the RSA also show major concerns about the number of vulnerable road users dying.
The number of motorcyclists killed has almost doubled from 16 to 27, while 95 drivers died in 2013 compared with 78 in 2012, and the number of passengers killed rose by five to 32.
Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey said that gardai would put in place a "comprehensive policing plan" for 2014, which "will target the main killer behaviours that consistently features as factors in road trauma".
"Drivers need to understand that they run the increasing risk of losing their licences in 2014 if they continue to commit road traffic offences.
"Of course, it is important to remember that the reason behind all the enforcement is not to put drivers off the road. It is to save lives and prevent injuries."