Monday 27 February 2017

Five things that we have got to do to cut deaths on our roads over the next 12 months

Moyagh Murdock, chief executive officer of the Road Safety Authority, says it is up to each one of us to help save lives in 2017

We can all play our part in helping to save lives on the road. Photo: Getty Images
We can all play our part in helping to save lives on the road. Photo: Getty Images
Moyagh Murdock

At the beginning of November we passed the total number of people (162) killed on the roads in 2015.

We could well lose another 32 lives before the year is out. Of real concern is the fact that out of the last four years, three have bucked the downward trend of deaths on our roads since 2006. Last year, which recorded the lowest number of deaths since we first began recording deaths in 1959, was the exception rather than the rule. As we face into a new year, our overriding priority must be to reverse this upward trend.

We simply must do this out of respect for those who have died, their loved ones and those who have been left with life-changing injuries.

So what must be done? Here are five major factors:

1. Road safety strategy

The government's road safety strategy runs from 2013 to 2020. It is the blueprint for making our roads among the safest in Europe. It has 144 specific actions to reduce deaths to no more than 124 a year.

That's no more than 10 deaths per month. We are currently killing an average of 16 people a month.

If we are to reverse the rise in road deaths and achieve the strategy's main objective by 2020, all the government departments, agencies and organisations allocated responsibility within the plan must redouble efforts to implement them.

2. Drink Driving

In 2016 the RSA published a number of reports that examined the factors behind fatal road crashes between 2008 to 2012. They were based on an analysis of the forensic investigations carried out by the gardai following fatal crashes. They include toxicology reports, witness statements, the forensic analysis of the crash scene and a vehicle inspection report. One of the reports we published on foot of the analysis concluded that alcohol was a factor in 38pc of fatal crashes.

As a society we have come a long way in terms of our attitudes to drinking and driving. However, there is a minority who believe it's acceptable to drink and drive.

This is not limited to any age group. But of concern is that some young people's excessive drinking habits are spilling onto our roads.

Earlier this year the Health Research Board published a report on the level of alcohol consumption. One of its findings was that more and more young people are suffering from diseases more associated with long-term alcohol abuse. The diseases include the likes of cirrhosis of the liver. While we must continue our work to raise awareness of the huge consequences of drink-driving, we must also introduce measures to tackle repeat offenders and face up to the new challenge posed by the excessive consumption of alcohol by some of our new generation of drivers.

3. Distraction/mobile phones

Using a mobile phone while driving is the modern equivalent of drink-driving. It causes the same level of impairment as driving over the limit. But they are also similar in that both happen, not by accident, but by choice.

It's a premeditated act to get into a car while under the influence of alcohol or to decide to pick up the phone while driving to make a call, send a text or Snapchat. Remember the footage of that truck driver in the UK scrolling through his music files on his phone while driving? He ended up killing two children and facing 10 years in prison.

But a driver's selfish choice to engage in this type of behaviour forces harder choices on others. Like the choice a paramedic will have to make at the scene of a crash when deciding who to treat first, the choice a surgeon will have to make on whether or not to amputate; like the gardaí who will have to tell a relative their loved one will not be coming home because they were killed by a driver who was texting while driving.

Phone use behind the wheel has reached epidemic proportions. Our own studies show that more than 50pc of drivers admit to using phone in some way. Penalty points for using a phone while driving increased from two to three points in August 2014. Almost 20,000 detections have been made by the gardai in the first eight months of this year. It's disappointing to see so many drivers ignoring common sense and ending up penalty points and a fine. But others need to take note that the gardai are enforcing this law and that there are 20,000 drivers who are a quarter of the way towards losing their licence.

4. Speeding

I remember a hospital consultant at one of the country's leading hospitals, and who had practiced emergency medicine in the US and Australia, saying at a road safety conference that he had never seen anything abroad to compare with the capacity of people in this country to crash cars at high speed.

We don't just crash cars. We smash them into walls and somersault them into fields at ridiculous speeds. We drive at excessive speeds. We drive at speeds that are simply inappropriate for the environment and the conditions.

Speeding is reckless and puts lives at risk. According to our own survey of vehicle speeds, 80pc of drivers break the limit of 50kmh in our towns and cities, putting the lives of our most vulnerable road users at risk. Hit at 60kmh, nine-out-of-10 pedestrians will die. We need to slow down and look at other measures such as the introduction of more 30kmh zones to protect these vulnerable road users.

5. Vehicle maintenance

Analysis of those Pre-Crash files into fatal crashes show that defective tyres were a contributory factor in 1-in-10 fatal crashes between 2008 and 2012. So taking care of our vehicles has to be a priority for us all in 2017.

Every time you are going to get into a car you should do a basic walk-around check of the vehicle to make sure that there are no issues, and critically that your tyres are fit for purpose.

Checking lights, wipers and that he water washer is full are other basic checks that should be performed regularly. Getting the car serviced at least once a year is also a must. It is simply not acceptable to substitute an NCT for a thorough service of the car.

This is because an NCT is a basic check and the testers cannot remove components from the car to make sure everything is as it should be and that parts are not coming to the end of their life cycle. Only your mechanic can do that.

There is one common thread that runs throughout all of these top five things we must do next year and that's personal responsibility. This means doing simple things, like wearing a seatbelt, every time. If we leave it entirely up to government departments and agencies to reverse the upward trend in road deaths we will fail, because the most important factor in saving lives is the action of each and every road user.

In 2017 we simply must take greater responsibility for our own safety and the safety of others.

And if you need a reminder of why we must do this, then just remember the doe eyed face of five-year-old Ciaran Treacy staring out at you from the TV.

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