Saturday 1 October 2016

Why it's time to bring 'fear factor' back to our roads

Our Road Safety Authority expert reports on concerns over reduced numbers in Traffic Corps

Published 08/04/2015 | 02:30

A highly visible garda presence and the fear of getting caught are the biggest factors in changing driver behaviour.
A highly visible garda presence and the fear of getting caught are the biggest factors in changing driver behaviour.

Recently-published figures showed a decline in the number of fixed charges, for all the main road safety offences, being issued by gardai.

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Numbers of detections for speeding were down 9pc, seatbelts (20pc) and mobile phones (15pc).

Since 2008 the drop has been even starker: a 66pc decline in seatbelt and 40pc in mobile-phone offences.

The decline may be due to more drivers taking greater care and being more compliant with the rules of the road.

However, there are other factors. Reductions in the number of Traffic Corps gardai (from 1,200 in 2009 to 750 last year) and the increase in the number of road deaths suggest all three trends are linked.

If that is the case it would be of great concern.

It's also difficult to see how mobile-phone detections could be dropping when our own, RSA, observational studies are telling us the numbers using them while driving is increasing.

Mobiles

In 2012 there were one-in-20 using a mobile while driving. Last year that shot up to one-in-12 (or 8pc of drivers).

Drivers here are using their devices in the car four times as much as those in the UK.

I can still remember clearly my first day in the job, working on road safety.

My then boss, the late Pat Costello, told me it was our job to constantly remind people of the dangers they face each day, but enforcement was the key.

Our role was to highlight the consequences of irresponsible behaviour and to bring about a change in attitudes.

But in trying to do this we were swimming against the tide of people's natural psychological reaction to being told what do to. So while road safety awareness campaigns can make people think and change attitudes, translating it into a change in behaviour is where enforcement comes in.

We have developed a 'road safety and enforcement model' that underpins our strategy here.

Education changes attitudes, wins the moral argument, shapes the climate of public opinion and builds support for enforcement.

And enforcement, or the fear of it, converts attitudes into a willing change in behaviour. If a driver is caught without a seatbelt or using a mobile phone, there really is no excuse.

Enforcement is the key to creating a tipping point between attitudes and behaviour.

A highly visible presence of gardaí on the road, plus the fear of enforcement, is the single biggest factor in changing people's behaviour when using the road.

Unfortunately our own research indicates that the perception among a majority of people (73pc) is that there are not enough gardai enforcing our road-safety laws.

Furthermore, two-in-five people believe the amount of road safety enforcement has actually declined over the past 12 months.

The gardai who enforce traffic laws should be proud of their contribution to saving lives and we owe them a great debt.

Resources

They are doing an excellent job with the resources available.

However, it is vital that the necessary human and technical resources are made available, to increase the number of gardai in the Traffic Corps.

It's not just the Road Safety Authority saying this. A big majority (84pc) of the public in a recent poll conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes said the government should prioritise funding the gardai to support their efforts to enforce road safety laws. It is time to bring the fear of enforcement back to our roads.

Would you favour more gardai on our roads? Let us know: ecunningham@independent.ie

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