Our roads were notably safer last year - major new study
Seatbelt use up, mobile phone use down and attitudes to enforcement improving: RSA expert
Last year was the safest on record. But why? It's difficult to draw conclusions from such a short timeframe. Our research department constantly reminds me that a minimum of five years' worth of data is needed to draw any trends, but there are a number of possible indicators.
The first is tracking road users' attitudes. We regularly commission an independent research company to conduct a poll of people's attitudes and behaviour. Over time, it provides a barometer to measure attitudes to issues like drink driving, speeding and mobile phone use.
One annual study examines attitudes to enforcement. The 2018 survey took place in January and February, and interviewed almost 1,000 adults. The results are in.
The first question we always ask is, what are the most influential factors in saving lives on the road? Each year the top answer is the same. Road Safety TV adverts lead the list as the most influential factor, with garda enforcement also especially prominent.
Those polled were also asked for their views on the number of gardai enforcing traffic laws. Some 62pc said there were not enough or not nearly enough.
However, the strength of this view has reduced from 74pc in 2015. Maybe we are witnessing a perceived increase in garda enforcement in recent years? If true, this is welcome.
We asked if there were enough gardai enforcing speed limits, drink driving limits and mobile phone offences. The responses reflected the overall attitude that there were not enough on the roads. Approximately two thirds said there were insufficient gardai.
How often do people pass through a Garda checkpoint? Some 31pc recalled passing through one on an at least monthly basis in the past six months, with similar levels since 2015.
A new question was added this year. Have you been breathalysed by the gardai in the past 12 months? I don't need to spell out why we added this question, but in fairness the response that came back was much more positive than we thought it would be: 16pc said they recalled being breathalysed in the previous 12 months.
When you consider that the Crowe Horwath report into the breathalyser controversy recommended that gardai should breathalyse 20pc of drivers annually, this shows it's a realistic and achievable target.
Finally, there was almost unanimous agreement (80pc) that the Government should prioritise funding of An Garda Síochána to support the enforcement of road safety laws.
Observational studies are also used to try and gauge changes in actual behaviour. Two big studies conducted annually include a study of seatbelt-wearing rates and a study of mobile phone use. Each was conducted in September and October last year. More than 20,000 car occupants were observed for the seatbelt study, and almost 3,000 drivers observed for the mobile phone use study.
The seatbelt study showed that 96pc of front-seat passengers and a similar percentage of drivers wore their seatbelts in the car in 2017. This compares with 94pc and 92pc in 2016.
While back-seat wearing rates are still a cause for concern at 83pc, it does reflect an 11pc increase on 2016.
Of the drivers observed for the mobile phone study, 4.5pc were seen using their phone while driving. This is a decrease when compared to 6pc in 2016. It's probably linked to a drop in the number of people observed texting while driving (1.3pc in 2017 compared with 3.5pc in 2016).
The marginal improvement in reported Garda enforcement, improved seatbelt-wearing rates and a decline in mobile phone use while driving could be contributory factors that helped make 2017 the safest on record.