Every death on our roads is a tragic waste of a human life, very often a young life. It is true that road deaths in Ireland have been steadily decreasing in recent years, falling from 338 in 2007 to 161 in 2012, but the vast majority of road traffic collisions are preventable and every needless death on our roads is a tragedy too many.
I want to thank the Gardaí and the Road Safety Authority for their enormous work in helping to achieve the reduction in road traffic deaths in recent years. But we must never lose sight of our goal – to reduce to the absolute minimum possible the number of road traffic collisions in this State.
As Minister for Justice, I want to highlight the factors behind road deaths to all road users and everyone involved in road safety.
160 people have already died on our roads in 2013 (to 3rd November). I recently asked the Gardaí to conduct an analysis of the factors behind these road deaths. The results show that, as well as drink driving, excessive speed; failure to wear a seatbelt; and dangerous overtaking are all significant factors in road deaths. Sadly, already this year, 15 people died on our roads whose lives may have been saved by wearing a seat belt.
There is welcome evidence of improved compliance with drink driving laws and I want to particularly commend the Gardaí for their continued vigilance. Visible and measurable enforcement of drink driving laws, including the widespread use of Mandatory Alcohol Testing Checkpoints, is working. The number of checkpoints has increased every year since 2011, yet the rate of detections of drivers under the influence of alcohol is decreasing. This means that fewer people are drink driving. I commend the continuing work of the Gardaí in reducing this key risk factor in road fatalities
There has been a disproportionate increase in the number of deaths of motorcyclists. Motorcycles represent only 1.5pc of the national fleet of vehicles, but 14pc of road traffic deaths in 2013 were of motorcyclists. It may be that the dry summer days encouraged recreational motorcyclists to take to the roads and drive at excessive speeds. Whatever the reason, tragically, by mid October,8 more motorcyclists had died than in the same period last year (up from 15 to 23) 13 of these were in the 26-35 age group.
It is vitally important that motorcyclists and young drivers become more aware of the dangers of speeding and that all drivers ensure that they and their passengers use seatbelts. Small changes in behaviour can save lives.
It is vitally important also that people out walking ensure that they are as visible as possible to drivers, in particular during the hours of darkness, by wearing high-visibility jackets, light coloured clothing, and where possible, carrying torches.
The number of serious injuries to mid September this year decreased to 320 from 347 in the same period last year. Gardaí say that the difference between life and death is very often the difference between wearing a seat belt or not, or dropping your speed by just a few kilometres per hour. Again, the simple message is this - small changes in behaviour could save your life and the lives of your passengers.
We all need to particularly focus on these issues in the coming weeks as we head into dark winter days, and the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
Road safety remains a central priority of the Gardaí and considerable resources continue to be devoted to road traffic enforcement. In each of the years that I have been Minister for Justice, it has been a continuing policing priority of An Garda Síochána, as stated in the Garda Commissioner’s Annual Policing Plan “to continue to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads arising from collisions.” To further support the Gardaí in this objective, I have secured additional funding of €9m for the Garda fleet in Budget 2014. This will bring the total spend on Garda vehicles to €18m in the three years 2012 to 2014. I also secured Garda numbers at 13,000 and obtained sanction for Garda recruitment to re-commence in 2014.
The Gardaí will continue to be visible in the weeks ahead monitoring and policing road behaviour and, along with the Road Safety Authority, maintaining a road safety and policing focus. There will be a series of high visibility Garda operations to police excessive speeding, intoxicated driving, seat belt compliance and illegal use of mobile phones.
Road fatalities have decreased during the lifetime of this government to an historic low. However, whilst they remain comparatively low, there has been an increase in fatalities this year compared to the same period last year. Within the last two weeks several pedestrians have been killed on our roads. Accidents don’t happen - they are caused and can be prevented.
Every road death is a tragedy. Make sure it’s not you or someone you love. Drivers, please buckle up and slow down. Pedestrians, please make you can be seen. Let’s all play our part and save lives for the remainder of this year and beyond.
Alan Shatter TD is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence