The vast majority of deaths on Irish roads in 2021 have occurred in rural areas, with new research confirming the 'danger time' for travel has changed since the pandemic struck.
In total, 65 people died on the roads between January and mid-July in 60 collisions, a fall of 12% on Garda data from the first half of 2020, while 406 people have been seriously injured, according to statistics by the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána.
Some 82% of those deaths occurred on rural roads, a significant jump from the 69% seen in 2020, while just under half of the serious injuries were suffered by pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
The most dangerous time on Irish roads has moved from the perceived ‘normal’ of rush hour traffic in the morning and evening to between midday and 4pm, while there were 59% fewer road user fatalities between the hours of midnight and 8am compared with 12 months previously.
Meanwhile, in terms of gender, 75% (49) of the fatalities were male. April was by some distance the worst month of 2021 to date, with 19 deaths recorded.
Three Munster counties – Kerry, Cork and Limerick with five fatalities apiece – share the worst record in 2021 to date.
Arrests of those suspected of drunk driving fell significantly, by 16%, in the year to end June – however, drug-driving arrests were up 13%.
Speed was cited repeatedly as one of the chief causes of road collisions at an event to mark the publication of the statistics in Dublin, with the RSA stating “the perceived acceptability of speeding has significantly increased”.
Velma Burns, research manager with the RSA, asked drivers to be more “mindful” that the more dangerous periods on Irish roads have changed.
“But actually 20 people have been killed in the afternoon”.
She noted that fewer pedestrians have been killed in 2021 to date, a fact which has been reflected in the decline in urban deaths, which tend to be made up to a greater extent of people walking on such roads.
“Behavioural changes due to the pandemic, such as remote working, are visible in the collision statistics this year,” Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton said.
Today we published the review on road safety for the first half of 2021. Any reduction in lives lost on Irish roads is welcomed; however, the increase in fatalities on rural roads is very concerning @RSAIreland @GardaTraffic @Dept_Transport pic.twitter.com/ZYqM8iRq6S— Hildegarde Naughton (@1Hildegarde) July 26, 2021
“People’s mobility patterns are changing as a result of Covid-19, we can see that in the statistics showing the most dangerous time is between midday and 4pm,” she said.
She suggested that Irish people on staycation in unfamiliar rural areas may be contributing to the excess rural statistics, but said more generally “speed is an issue”.
“We’re asking people to please slow down, particularly coming into the bank holiday weekend, and to particularly watch out for other vulnerable road users,” she said.