Kerry road death figures buck national trend

Rise in road deaths and drink driving detections in 2017 in one of most dangerous counties for drivers

Tadhg Evans

Kerry remains one of the deadliest counties in terms of road deaths. New figures reveal the county was one of the few regions to record an increase in road accident fatalities in 2017 even though it was the safest year nationally since records began.

Statistics also show a nine per cent rise in drunk-driving detections in Kerry last year compared to 2016.

In the last five years, 51 people were killed on Kerry's roads. This is the fourth worst figure in the country - and the worst in Munster - for that period, after population is factored in. Only Monaghan, Longford, and Mayo had a higher number of fatalities in the same period.

Last year, eight people were killed on Kerry roads, up from seven in 2016. Of those killed in Kerry, three were cyclists, and only Dublin (4), with almost ten times Kerry's population, endured more cyclist deaths. 

The total number of road deaths in Kerry bucked the national trend for 2017. Last year saw the lowest number of fatalities on Irish roads, according to RSA statistics stretching back to 1959. There were 158 deaths on Irish roads in 2017 - which is down from 186 in 2016, and a decrease of more than 65 per cent from the same figure 20 years ago.

"The overall trend [in Kerry] looking back over the years does show matters are improving; there's been a big change," Inspector Tony Sugrue said. "We've brought the figures down from double-digits to single-digits.

"The statistics don't factor everything in. For example, Kerry's population increases greatly over the tourist season, which is getting longer all the time, and we're seeing more cars on the road in recent years because the economy is improving. It's also worth noting that the number of serious injuries in road accidents almost halved from 2016 to 2017, from 33 down to 17," he added. 

"You see the figures for cycling fatalities are high for a county of our population, but you must remember that Kerry is the premier county for cycling events, and you get many people cycling locally in preparation, as well as people visiting the county to cycle. We must also factor in that our road network, while improving, is a relatively old one in comparison to, say, Dublin or Cork's.

"What the breakdown of the fatality and serious injury statistics since I came here in 2014 do show, however, is that we must send out a clear safety warning to our most vulnerable road users, such as cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians, because six motorcyclists died in this period [13 serious injuries], nine pedestrians [12 serious injuries], and seven cyclists [nine serious injuries]. We're actually seeing very few fatalities from head-on vehicle collisions. What we need to get out there is that we need all our road users to be safety-conscious. You must look out for yourself," Insp Sugrue said.

The overall trend in Kerry has indeed shown significant improvement in the last 15 years in terms of the number of fatalities on the county's roads. While 51 people have been killed in the last five years since 2013, this was a decrease from the five-year periods between 2008 and 2012 (56); and 2003 to 2007 (75).

Inspector Sugrue told The Kerryman that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what has led to this decrease, but he did identify a number of factors that he believes may have contributed to this improvement. 

"I think you have to factor in increased enforcement, engineering, and education," he said. 

"For example, there were 1,200 students at the most recent AXA Roadshow in Killarney, a show which shows the effects of road accidents through such measures as bringing in people who have been affected by incidents on our roads.

"I think you also have to look at the strong collaboration between the Joint Policing Committee, Kerry County Council (KCC), and the Road Safety Authority. Our infrastructure has improved and safety features in cars are improving. The increase in the volume of vehicles in Kerry, which has a relatively old network of roads, also has had the effect of slowing our traffic down."

However, Insp Sugrue added that he is particularly disappointed that the number of drunk-driving detections also rose from 302 to 329 from 2016 to 2017.

"I see the increase in detections as a negative," he said. "I want to see that figure dropping, not increasing, because, in spite of great efforts to get the dangers of drink-driving out there in the media, people don't seem to be getting the message."

Insp Sugrue added that the dangers of alcohol apply to all road users, not just those driving vehicles.

"Consumption of alcohol can put all road users at risk, not just those driving vehicles, and that's a message we'd like to put out there to our more vulnerable road-users, in particular to our motorcyclists and pedestrians," he said.

Inspector Sugrue has now set his sights on further measures that could make Kerry's roads safer, explaining that the addition of seven Gardaí will bolster the traffic unit. 

He added that participants in the Ring of Kerry Cycle were the focus of safety campaigns in advance of the 2017 event and this is planned again in 2018. The Ring of Beara Cycle is also among a number of cycles that are to be targeted by road safety campaigns.