Making our roads safer - New system just part of the answer

THE far-too-frequent road tragedies involving young people made it inevitable that the measures announced by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) yesterday would include stiffer sanctions than those imposed heretofore.

The vast majority of learner drivers who behave responsibly, especially in regard to drinking and driving or speeding, may resent the changes but they seem unavoidable. As in virtually every aspect of Irish life the great majority who behave properly and accept their responsibilities must endure the consequences of the recklessness of a dangerous minority.

The system incorporates a new way of assessing learner drivers, but it will not be in place for at least a year, maybe two.

This concern deepens when you realise that there are 240,000 learner drivers using our roads every day.

In a gesture reminiscent of Sylvie Barrett – the minister who gave full driving licences to learner drivers even though they did not take a driving test just so he could declare there was no backlog – only those who apply for a learner permit after April 4 will be obliged to undergo a minimum of 12 hours of instruction.

What about today’s 240,000 learner drivers? Surely if today’s system is deemed inadequate then these drivers should be subject to the new regulations too?

This may be another Irish solution to an Irish problem but, just as in so many other areas again, it seems more like an Irish dodge to resolve an Irish difficulty.

Though these measures are welcome it would be foolish to imagine that they are any more than just one of the many things that need to change to help people become responsible and safe road users.

This summer’s enthusiasm for staycations will have reintroduced many people to rural secondary roads where the great majority of road deaths occur. For many it would have been like travelling back in time to some forgotten, rudimentary place. Leaving behind the even, well aligned and brightly lit roads of urban areas, many were confronted with roads unfit for the volume of traffic or the speed at which that traffic travels. This is especially true around some primary tourist destinations where so many of the summer users are more used to driving on the right-hand side of the road.

There is too a growing aggression on our roads. The civility and simple manners we all rely on to make this a bearable society are now more marked by their absence than by their observance.

Though decrying a collapse in values that made interaction with strangers at least tolerable and often pleasant is an old and often dismissed argument the evidence of this collapse can be seen at nearly every road intersection during every rush hour. Each of us should question our own behaviour and if necessary modify it in this regard. Our roads are no place for tantrums, aggressive driving or confrontations over unintended slights.

There is, of course, another question at the root of all this – why, despite all the campaigns and terrible tragedies, do so many otherwise sensible young people drive so wildly, as if they did not care whether they kill themselves or others? Could it be that they feel little or no obligation to a society that offers so many of them few options other than the dole queues or emigration?


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