We have come a long way in making our roads safer over the past two decades. In 1998, 458 deaths occurred on Irish roads, compared with 146 in 2018. In fact, as the Road Safety Authority (RSA) revealed yesterday, there has been a 68% reduction in fatalities on Irish roads since the introduction of the first road safety strategy in 1998.
Road deaths have decreased by 26% since 2010, with the implementation of improved legislation, such as new drug driving laws, greater traffic law enforcement activities, and road safety campaigns playing a part in making that happen.
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that, despite this huge improvement, the RSA’s chief executive Moyagh Murdock says it is unlikely that targets for reducing deaths and serious injuries on Irish roads will be met next year. The target had been to reduce road deaths to under 124 a year by 2020, but that is now unlikely to be achieved.
That target forms part of an EU-wide strategy to make roads safer across all member states. In 2010, the European Commission renewed its commitment to improve road safety by setting a target of reducing road deaths by 50% by 2020, compared to 2010 levels. This target followed an earlier one set in 2001 to halve the number of road deaths by 2010. A new target to halve road deaths by 2030 compared to 2020 levels was announced by the European Commission last year.
The 2020 target will only be met by a handful of member states and Ireland is not one of them. Our failure to meet what is, admittedly, a challenging target was revealed at the RSA Annual International Road Safety Conference which will inform the development of the next Government road safety strategy.
According to Ms Murdock, enforcement is key to reducing road deaths. Enforcement is, of course, very important, considering that more than a third of car users who die in road crashes are not wearing seatbelts. But surely a more holistic approach is needed if we are to achieve a substantial decrease in the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
That is the approach being taken by some EU states. The French have reduced speed limits on undivided rural roads to 80km/h. That should give us pause for thought here, considering the number of similar roads in Ireland where the limit remains at 100km/h. They have also taken a much broader view of road safety. In the city of Dunkirk in Normandy a free bus service has doubled the number of people using public transport, with the consequent reduction in car use leading to fewer road accidents.
It is not only the wealthy states with large populations that are achieving substantial improvements in road safety. The former Soviet republic of Estonia, with a population of 1.3m, will meet the EU target, using a combination of traffic law enforcement and public safety campaigns. Though not in the EU, Norway is part of the push for safer driving throughout Europe and has almost halved road deaths since 2010, thanks, in part, to a speed awareness campaign targeting young male drivers. No single road safety measure will make a difference but a combined approach will.