Ireland is on course to meet an EU target of cutting annual road deaths in half by 2020.
Figures published by the European Commission show Ireland achieved better-than-average results last year as the EU recorded the lowest ever number of road fatalities in 2012.
However, an average of 75 people still die on roads every day across the EU’s 27 member states.
Deaths due to road collisions across the EU fell by 9% last year while the total number of road fatalities in the Republic fell by 12% to 162 deaths — the lowest since records began more than 50 years ago.
EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said 2012 represented a landmark year for road safety with a reduced number of fatal collisions, possibly saving up to 3,000 lives.
However, he warned against any complacency.
EU figures show the number of road deaths still varies considerably. The country with the poorest road safety record, Latvia, has a road fatality rate three times higher than countries with the safest records.
Britain has the best record within the EU with average annual road fatalities at a rate of 28 deaths per million inhabitants, followed closely by Sweden, the Netherlands, and Denmark.
Ireland recorded the fifth lowest rate in the EU in 2012 with 36 deaths per million inhabitants — a figure which compares favourably with the EU average of 55 deaths per million of population.
The Road Safety Authority said it was delighted to see that Ireland had become one of the safest countries in Europe last year.
RSA chief executive Noel Brett said Irish road users deserved huge credit for the way they had changed their attitudes and driving behaviour in recent years.
“It is this change by Irish road users that has saved so many lives and prevented so many needless injuries on our roads,” said Mr Brett.
However, he expressed concern at the increase in road deaths so far this year. A total of 45 people have been killed to date in 2012 — 15 more than in the corresponding period last year.
Mr Kallas, meanwhile, said the overall figures on road fatalities last year meant that the EU was back on track towards the target of cutting road deaths by 50% between 2010 and 2020.
He particularly welcomed a substantial reduction in the number of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and motorcyclists, killed last year.
It is estimated that, for every death on Europe’s roads, there are 10 serious injuries and 40 more slightly injured.
However, Mr Kallas said there was a problem that current data relating to serious injuries is based on general estimates with associated problems of misreporting and underreporting of serious injuries.
A new national Road Safety Strategy, due to be unveiled by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar at an international conference in Dublin next week, is expected to make the reduction of serious injuries a key objective.
The EU has recently reached agreement between member states on a common definition of serious road injuries.
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