Need to take better care of children on our roads
New report highlights substantial progress but we still lag top European countries
Children are our most vulnerable road users. They often make their first trip in a car only days after being born.
Teaching them about road safety is as important as teaching them to read, write or count. Whether they are walking or cycling, getting on or off the school bus or playing outside with friends, it is a life skill that will help keep them safe.
A new study published in January in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), entitled: 'Trends in road transport collision deaths in the Irish paediatric population: a retrospective review of mortality data, 1991-2015' has shown there have been major reductions in child casualties from road crashes in Ireland.
The report, conducted by Temple Street Children's University Hospital also highlights the fact that the decline in road fatality rates among children has surpassed the overall child mortality rate.
The study puts this down to successive government road safety strategies since 1998.
The study found there have been large reductions in child fatality rates across all age, gender and road user categories. And while one death is one too many, the report concluded the decreases had resulted in 537 fewer child deaths in the 20-year period from 1996 to 2015. That is a staggering figure.
There are approximately eight deaths per year now among children aged 1-14, compared with 34 in the early 1990s. For older children, this figure has dropped from 52 deaths to 14 a year.
The report identifies the introduction of penalty points, seatbelt and child restraint laws, anti-drink driving measures and the safety camera system as major contributors to the decline.
But it does single out the introduction of child safety restraint laws as a significant factor in reducing child-car passenger deaths.
After non-seatbelt wearing was listed as a penalty point offence in 2003, and compulsory use of appropriate child restraint systems was introduced in 2006, the rate of fatalities in the age group 1-14 years declined more 10pc a year. While the reduction in child car occupant fatalities can be attributed to changes in driver or parental behaviour, the same cannot be said about reductions in child pedestrian and cyclist casualties.
Driver behaviour improvements, such as reducing speed and not drinking and driving probably had some positive input, the report says the decline is 'likely to also be partly attributable to a change in exposure as evident in a gradual decline in the number of children walking, cycling and taking public transport to school'.
This is a concern as it raises wider questions about child mobility.
The report concludes that, at eight child deaths per million population, Ireland is now roughly on par with the EU average.
However, we still have some way to go to close the gap to countries with the safest child safety rates.
Our child mortality rate from road crashes is twice that of countries such as the UK, Norway, and Sweden.
One of the call-outs in the report is that Ireland should start setting specific child-safety casualty-reduction targets in its road safety strategy.
One thing we are all agreed on is that to further reduce child deaths and injuries, it will require a co-ordinated and collaborative effort. We all have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to protect our most vulnerable road users.