Safety has to be first priority
Drink-driving and speeding are as much about personal responsibility as they are about enforcement, writes Geraldine Herbert
A welcome new road safety measure is the recent announcement by the EU that it will require all new cars sold from 2022 to contain devices that will discourage drivers from exceeding the speed limit. Time will tell but experts predict that this will save more than 25,000 lives and avoid at least 140,000 serious injuries by 2038.
But many drivers are opposed to any lowering or capping of speed limits. I had occasion to discuss this proposal on three national radio stations in the past week and the question most frequently asked was "Can it be disabled?", so it seems the first concern regarding any safety initiative is how to circumvent it. And, yes, it can be over-ridden, the system uses GPS and road sign recognition technology to warn the driver of excessive speed and automatically slows the car down but at all times the car is in the control of the driver and the speed can be increased by simply stepping on the accelerator.
Some 90pc of accidents are caused by human error, and speed limits are key to improving road safety because speed has a direct impact on the severity of a crash. The level of human error is significantly increased when alcohol is involved and so while Minister Finian McGrath may have withdrawn his comments claiming that An Garda Siochana is politicising the enforcement of new drink-driving laws and apologised to road crash victims, he is not alone in raising questions about the recent enforcement of these laws.
The view that there is excessive enforcement has been nurtured inside and outside the Oireachtas, specifically about the increasing number of early morning checkpoints.
Rural Ireland, it is claimed, has been disproportionately impacted and these laws have a detrimental effect on the social well-being of rural dwellers and the viability of their local pubs.
Of course, many will point out that Irish roads are very safe by European standards: we are in the top three for safest roads, right up there with the UK and Denmark. But the fatality rate does not tell the full story - in the first two months of this year there was a 17pc increase in the number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs compared with the same period last year.
A drop in road fatalities over the past few years has brought well-deserved media attention but the senselessness of 148 people dying on our roads last year should motivate us to eradicate these preventable deaths.
Speed limits and road safety enforcement are not an infringement of personal liberties nor is the amended drink-driving legislation intended to criminalise responsible social drinkers.
Higher speeds make it harder to react while alcohol in your system slows down your brain so even a small amount of drink can lead to risk-taking and impaired judgment.
Enforcement and technology can reduce the number of people needlessly injured and killed on our roads but ultimately safer roads are down to how people drive.
We need to stop cherry-picking the laws we support and disregarding the ones we don't. More than 80pc of people disqualified from driving do not surrender their licence, one in every four people killed on our roads are not wearing a seat belt, and alcohol is a contributory factor in 38pc of all fatal accidents.
Improved road safety is not about one specific change to the law that will make a difference, it is about improving human behaviour, safer infrastructure and safer vehicles.
Can it really be argued that rigorous enforcement of road safety laws do not reduce serious accidents and the life-changing injuries that never make the headlines?
In criticising these initiatives, politicians are not serving their constituents' best interests but instead are trying to normalise life-threatening, reckless behaviour on our roads.