Saturday 22 October 2016

Comment: Latest heartbreaking death on our roads is just too much to bear - what can we do?

Published 07/09/2016 | 08:15

Nicola Kenny was killed in motorway crash just one day after giving birth
Nicola Kenny was killed in motorway crash just one day after giving birth

On Monday, newspaper front pages were filled with photos of ecstatic Tipp hurling fans after their county won the coveted Liam MacCarthy cup.

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It’s only Wednesday, but Tipperary is in the headlines again; this time for the most tragic of reasons.

Young Thurles mum Nicola Kenny (26) was killed in a horrific car crash on the M8 while travelling to Temple Street Children’s hospital to collect her newborn daughter, Lily-Rose, born on the same day as Tipp’s triumph. What should have been double joy for her family turned into tragedy.

Nicola had pulled into the hard shoulder to take a phone call, ironically to inform her that Lily-Rose, who had been transferred to Dublin following a minor complication after her birth in Clonmel, was just fine. She was awaiting her mum and was ready to return home. She will return home, but for the funeral of the mother she will never know.

Of all the things you can imagine happening to you, surely this ranks as one of the most awful; unimaginable really, for the rest of us.

Road accidents are on the rise. This is despite all the advertising, awareness campaigns, money spent and insurance premium hikes. 

In 2015, there were 166 fatalities. By June this year, there had been an 8pc increase over the same period last year. It’s not looking good.

It had been decreasing; some of the measures seemed to be working. Extra penalty points, more garda checkpoints and tighter implementation of road rules appeared to be having an effect. But then you hear of such tragedies and you know road deaths will never totally be eradicated.

It’s said motorways are the safest of roads; everyone is going in the same direction and the room for collision is low compared to say, windy country roads in rural areas. It’s why we allow them the top speed limit of 120kph.

I drove to and from Galway last weekend, having recently returned from a trip to Cork. On both motorways, despite the smooth passage and bypassed towns shortening my journey, there was, after Enfield on the M6 and Naas in Co Kildare, simply nowhere to stop and take a break without coming completely off the road and into a town.

Yes, you could pull into a lay-by; but these are simply stretches of tarmac with absolutely no facilities. If your phone happened to ring while you were in one, fine. Otherwise, of course, you don’t answer it.

In Nicola’s case though, she probably thought she was doing something relatively safe.  The call came from her baby’s hospital, and her mother and aunt, driving, safely pulled to the roadside to answer it. They must have been understandably distressed wondering if something was wrong with baby Lily-Rose. They took a chance, one which most of us would consider a small one.

They didn’t notice, or had no time to react, to the truck bearing down on them.

I admit, I’ve done the same, even at times when it wasn’t nearly as urgent. The hard shoulder isn’t meant to be used for stops, even temporary ones, but we sometimes avail of them because we have no choice.

What, for example, would you do if you had a tyre blowout, or a puncture, or smoke rising from the engine? Well, you’d stop; of course you would.

I don’t have the answer. Neither does the Road Safety Authority or Government.

Perhaps though they could look at one thing: in order to fund the founding of the bedevilled Irish Water, our road tax has been diverted to prop it up. It amounts to a disgraceful €1bn, and has left less, as a consequence, for road improvements or maintenance.

A billion euro would go a long way toward safe lay-bys with services, don’t you think?

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