WHEN it comes to fatalities on our roads, you can quote all the statistics in the world showing that driving in Ireland is comparatively safe but, for the families and loved ones left behind, one road death is one too many.
Already this week, in the space of 12 hours four people died on Irish roads. That is not just a statistic but a horrifying reality for those left to grieve and mourn.
It is not just deaths that cause devastation but also serious injury and the broken lives of people who have experienced the devastation of road traffic collisions, and survived, and must go on living.
Behind each statistic is a life ended or badly broken.
But statistics can also be revealing. New figures show that there was an 8% increase in road fatalities in the first half of this year, compared to the same period last year.
Considering the hard work done by the Road Safety Authority, An Garda Síochána, and other agencies, this cannot be allowed to continue.
Ireland has made enormous progress over the past two decades and now has one of the best road safety records in the EU. Countless lives have been saved through widespread changes in driver behaviour, better roads, improved engineering, and enhanced enforcement.
Ireland has gone from being one of the worst EU countries for road safety to one of the safest but the recent rise in road deaths and serious injuries is a matter of great concern.
In 2013, when Leo Varadkar was Minister for Transport he launched the latest govenment road safety strategy which acknowledged how far we had come on road safety since the first such strategy in 1998.
It focused, in particular, on ways and means not just to cut down the number of fatalities but also the number of serious injuries. It sets out an ambitious target for reducing serious injuries on our roads, as well as new targets for reducing fatalities for the following seven years.
It was called ‘Closing the Gap’ and was designed to match the safety records of the UK, Netherlands, and Sweden by 2020. Since then, not only have we not closed the gap but we have widened it.
According to the chair of the RSA, Liz O’Donnell, drink-driving and speed remain the “big killers” on the roads. That points to driver behaviour and the best way to ensure good conduct by motorists is by way of enforcement.
You would imagine that, in those circumstances, the Government would boost the resources of the Garda Traffic Corps. Instead, it has been drastically reduced.
The strength of the Traffic Corps has been almost halved in the past decade. During the recession, the number of Traffic Corps dropped to 750 from a high of 1,300.
There has been a 22% reduction in the number of breath tests conducted by gardaí in the first six months of 2016 and a 10% fall in mandatory alcohol checkpoints.
If the Government is serious about its road safety strategy, it must give the gardaí the resources they need.
It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
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