Traffic Corps used to be 1,200 strong, but now it 'doesn't exist'
We're only half as likely to face drink-drive check, says RSA expert as he bemoans lack of presence
Over the past decade-and-a-half our roads have become much safer. This has been achieved through a number of road safety strategies that identified life-saving measures, who was responsible for them and when they were to be delivered. Each strategy is founded on the three Es of Engineering, Education and Enforcement.
There is no question that our efforts to make roads safer were hit by the recession.
Enforcement has been hit hard. The Traffic Corps pre-recession stood at 1,200 strong. Now it doesn't exist at all, as roads traffic policing has been subsumed into the main policing duties of all gardai.
It has been almost impossible to tell what effect all of this has had on actual enforcement levels. A recently published European Survey of Road Users Attitudes (ESRA) confirms our worst fears.
It finds that drivers in Ireland are half as likely to 'experience' road policing compared to the average European driver.
The ESRA project is a joint initiative of research institutes in 17 European countries aiming at collecting comparable national data on road users' opinions, attitudes and behaviour on road traffic risks.
Among the themes in the survey are: attitudes towards unsafe traffic behaviour, other road users' behaviour, risk perception, reported police checks and perceived likelihood of getting caught for traffic offences. Data collection took place in all countries in June/July 2015. ESRA gathered data from more than 17,000 road users, including almost 11,000 frequent car drivers.
On the positive side, its report shows people here treat the issue of road safety seriously. Irish people rate road safety second only to the health care system in terms of priority social issues. They rate it higher than crime and unemployment.
Fewer people here believe it is acceptable to speed, drink-drive and use a mobile phone while driving or not wear a seatbelt compared to the average European.
These positive road safety attitudes are a testament to the effectiveness of education and awareness programmes and campaigns.
On the negative side - and this is where we are falling down and what's probably behind the regression in road safety over the last number of years - the likelihood of Irish drivers being checked by the police is lower than the average European.
When asked how likely it was to be breathalysed by the police on a typical journey, 9.5pc of drivers here said it was likely compared with 18.2pc of European drivers. You are twice as likely to be checked for drink-driving in the rest of Europe than in Ireland. More than a quarter (26.6pc) of drivers here reported they were likely to encounter a speed check compared with 36.2pc for the average European; 10.7pc said there was a likelihood of being checked for wearing a seatbelt on a typical journey here compared with 18.8pc for the average European.
And we wonder why road deaths are increasing when motorists here are subjected to enforcement levels, certainly in the case of drink-driving, significantly below the European average?
There is huge public support for tough, high levels of enforcement to tackle dangerous behaviour, such as drink-driving. This is thanks to effective road safety awareness campaigns that have been successful in changing our attitudes and crucial to building community support for such high levels of enforcement.
Enforcement really is the key. Ensuring that drivers have the belief that they are likely to be detected and face penalties if they break traffic rules is critical to have effective road safety strategies. Simply put, the frequency and likelihood of encountering police checks determines the behaviour of road users.