Sunday 26 February 2017

Tougher laws have driven down the number of road fatalities so far this year

* Our RSA expert details how tougher laws have driven down the level of fatalities so far this year

We may never stop crashes from happening, but we can certainly reduce the risk
We may never stop crashes from happening, but we can certainly reduce the risk

I am writing this against the backdrop of recent terrible tragedies. Every death is a shocking loss and one too many. All our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones.

It is difficult to talk in broad, general terms at a time like this, but maybe it might serve a purpose because it shows how so many people are working to reduce the awful toll.

I would like to emphasise that it is not my intention to link general themes to individual tragedies. Every one we hear of makes our job all the more urgent. We wonder if we could have done something more.

A fatal crash is a random event that can happen anywhere, any time, on any of our 100,000km of roads. Predicting a crash is impossible. Preventing them is not. We may never stop them from happening completely, but we can certainly reduce the risk.

We do this by identifying trends. We use the available data, facts and evidence. Casualty statistics help us identify these trends and the main risk factors.

We know, based on international experience, when we fund development of educational, engineering and enforcement actions to deal with risk factors, we can prevent crashes. We took this approach back in 1998 when the first road safety strategy was launched.

While deaths are down overall by almost 60pc since then, we had an increase over the last two years. In looking for answers we were faced with another unpredictable side to road safety. There was no clear reason for the increase. Was it complacency? Reductions in enforcement? The good weather? More vehicles on the roads?

How can we possibly operate within such unpredictability? That's why we have a strategy and why, when death numbers climbed last year and the year before, the only response was to trust in our blueprint and prioritise its measures.

Six months into 2015 we have fewer deaths compared with the same period last year. It has also been the safest first six months recorded. Safer than 2012, the year we recorded the lowest fatality rate since records began in 1959.

It's impossible to say for sure why this is happening. We know that it's unfolding against a backdrop of increasing traffic volumes and economic activity. I think we are seeing the fruits of recent Road Safety Strategy decisions and interventions.

Top of the list must be the increase in penalty points last autumn; points increased from two to three for driving while using a mobile, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt.

The new Novice plate system and lowering the penalty point threshold from 12 to seven points for learner and novice drivers helped too. Since December, learner drivers who fail to drive accompanied, and learners and novices who fail to display 'L' or 'N' plates, now face two points. Without doubt these measures are having a positive effect on road safety.

Despite the difficulties with the NCT in the earlier part of the year, there are more cars in a roadworthy condition. This is thanks to the introduction, late in 2014, of penalty points for failing to have a valid NCT.

It was also around this time that Roadside Impairment Testing gave gardaí new powers to tackle drug driving at the roadside.

It's clear the threat of penalty points or fines motivates people to behave better. Although that is a little unfair on a public that has made incredible progress in reducing road trauma over the past decade, the essential ingredient is the willingness of the public to accept these measures. That shows maturity; a willingness to change, for the better; to save lives. What's also clear is that we can never sit still when it comes to road safety. New interventions are needed if we want to continue to make the roads a safer place.

Indo Motoring

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