Mother whose son was killed by drunk driver backs new road safety campaign

'We must keep the focus on road safety'

A mother, whose son was killed by a drink driver, has backed a new road safety strategy for Cork which aims to reduce annual road deaths in Ireland’s largest county.

Christina Donnelly, whose son Brendan died in Cork in 2009, welcomed the multi-agency strategy which will focus on education, engineering, and Garda enforcement measures.

“We must keep the focus on road safety and prevention. If one person listens, if this saves one life, then something good has come out of our tragedy,” she said.

“Even today, it’s still hard to speak about the child you thought would outlive you. You never get over it, you never get over the pain. You just have to learn to live with the loss. There is always an empty chair at the table. I still wait for Brendan to come through the door.”

Brendan, 24, and his friend, Lee Salkeld, 26, were driving from Waterford to Cork Airport with their girlfriends on October 26, 2009, to jet off on a short break to Amsterdam, when a drunk driver slammed into their car outside Castlemartyr in East Cork. Brendan and Lee died at the scene.

Anthony Long, from Leadington, Leamlara, Co Cork, was given a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death.

He was freed in August 2014 after serving three years and eight months.

Since Brendan’s death, Christina has campaigned for improved road safety measures and tougher jail terms for those convicted of drink-driving causing death.

In a powerful address at the launch of the Cork Road Safety Plan yesterday, she said there is no excuse for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Does a person who gets into a lethal weapon, and gets out on the road full of alcohol and takes a life in a preventable accident, have any idea what they are doing to that person’s family?” she asked.

“The family is ripped apart for the rest of their lives. They have no idea what they have done to that family. When I look at the photos in my kitchen, the photos of Brendan all stop at the age of 24.

“They stopped there because somebody with a selfish attitude got into a vehicle, drove full of alcohol, and had no respect for human life. No sentence will ever make up for a life that has been taken.”

She said she was speaking for hundreds of parents whose lives have been ripped apart by preventable fatal road traffic accidents involving alcohol or drugs.

The Road Safety Plan was developed by a working group of gardaí, Cork City and county councils, the HSE, Road Safety Authority, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

It will focus on education, enforcement, and road engineering measures in a bid to reach a national target of 25 deaths per million population by 2020 — reducing deaths nationally from 162 in 2014 to 124 by 2020.

A total of 166 people died on the roads last year; 125 have died so far in 2016 — a 20% increase compared to the same period last year.

As of Monday, 17 people had been killed on Cork roads since the start of the year.

Regional Traffic Superintendent Pat Lehane warned motorists, as part of the strategy, that gardaí will be focusing on drink- and drug-driving, distraction driving caused by phone use, speeding, and seatbelt compliance, using research on accident trends to ensure their resources are focused and targeted appropriately.


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