Our toxic relationship with alcohol is killing us in more ways than one. Research by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has found that more than 50% of pedestrians killed on Irish roads between 2008 and 2015 had consumed alcohol.
More than half of those drinkers had an extremely high blood alcohol concentrate, amounting to well over four times the legal driving limit.
The statistics also reveal the peculiar dangers facing pedestrians in rural areas. While the majority of fatalities occurred in urban centres, most of those pedestrians who had been drinking died on rural roads, many of them elderly. Older people are at greatest risk of getting knocked down and killed on our roads, with the highest number of pedestrian fatalities recorded for those aged 75 and over.
The majority of pedestrian fatalities take place late at night and, of pedestrians killed in the hours of darkness, 98% were not wearing any high-visibility clothing.
These are grim statistics indeed, but it must never be forgotten that behind them lie real heartache and pain for the family and loved ones left behind.
The majority of fatalities were male, which suggests a scenario of an elderly man walking home from the pub at night along the side of an unlit country road, wearing dark clothing and, perhaps bolstered by alcohol, oblivious to danger.
Over the last five decades or more, huge strides have been made to make our roads safer for motorists. From the introduction of driving tests in the mid 1960s to compulsory seatbelts, along with airbags and other devices, driving in Ireland is far safer than it was 50 years ago.
In 1964, there were around 400,000 vehicles on the roads, with 341 fatalities. Now there are more than 2.5m vehicles and last year the death toll was 158. That is still 158 too many, but it shows that, proportionately, driving is around eight times safer than it was in the ’60s.
The formation of the RSA in 2006 has helped make the roads safer still for motorists but pedestrians have not fared as well, even though the number of pedestrians who have died on the roads has more than halved over the past decade. That makes the RSA’s latest drive to protect pedestrians welcome and necessary. As part of its annual Irish Road Safety Week, which began yesterday, the RSA is concentrating on pedestrians, with a series of safety activities planned nationwide.
While the RSA and the Government have huge responsibility for road safety, there is much that the ordinary citizen can do. We can campaign for more 30km/h speed limits in towns and cities and insist that Transport Minister Shane Ross commences the Road Traffic Act, which makes drink driving punishable with an automatic loss of licence.
We must also make ourselves and our fellow road users less vulnerable. That should include wearing hi-vis jackets when walking in the dark and, most importantly, not drinking to such an extent that we think we are invincible when walking home from the pub or a friend’s house.
People are fragile and no match for cars on the road.