Justice Minister Alan Shatter has rubbished criticism by the head of the Road Safety Authority that motorists are becoming more complacent about their driving behaviour due to reduced garda enforcement of road traffic legislation.
Mr Shatter claimed yesterday that Gay Byrne, the RSA chairman, was “wrong” to suggest that an increase in road fatalities in 2013 is linked to Garda enforcement levels and the public perception about fewer gardaí on the roads.
“Statistics are not always interpreted correctly,” the minister remarked, adding that the number of people seriously injured in road collisions had decreased this year, despite the increase in fatalities.
Mr Shatter insisted the lower number of motorists detected for drink-driving was a consequence of good work done by both gardaí and the RSA, while there was also evidence of less speeding offences being committed.
Speaking following a ministerial meeting on road safety, he claimed the risk of motorists becoming complacent because of the perception of reduced enforcement levels was “not an issue”.
Asked if Mr Byrne’s views raised questions about his role as RSA chairman, Mr Shatter accused journalists of trying to generate controversy instead of addressing a serious matter.
However, the minister said he did not mind if he and Mr Byrne had their differences as they both shared a genuine concern about road safety.
All our objectives are to ensure people do not lose their lives and to keep road fatalities at their lowest possible level, said Mr Shatter.
The RSA chairman declined to comment when contacted yesterday.
Conor Faughnan, the AA’s director of consumer affairs, said there is no denying motorists believe there are fewer gardaí on the roads. An AA survey of 20,000 motorists this year showed 72% felt there was less visibility by gardaí in enforcing road traffic legislation.
“When it comes to road safety and enforcement, perception is at least as important as reality,” he said.
He claimed Mr Byrne’s view of a link between enforcement levels and higher fatalities was “certainly reasonable rather than deliberately polemical”.
The Irish Examiner revealed last September that Mr Shatter and the veteran broadcaster had privately clashed on the issue this summer.
A total of 160 people have died on Irish roads so far this year — one short of the entire total of road fatalities in 2012 — and 18 more than at the corresponding period last year.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar expressed confidence in garda enforcement levels, although he admitted he would always like to see even more checks.
Both Mr Varadkar and Mr Shatter urged pedestrians to use high-visibility clothing, especially on rural roads, during the darker winter months.
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