Those of us who try be optimistic by nature are struggling for material at the moment. If we hoped that 2013 would see life get a little better for Irish motorists, there really isn’t any sign of it yet.
There are lots of little bits of data that tell us we are still in a deep dark recession. I know that you hardly needed me to tell you that. But the other key piece of data that we watch carefully in here is the number of road deaths, and that is also going badly.
By the end of February this year 34 people had died on our roads. For the same period last year that number was 23. You have to be very careful before you call that a trend but it is obviously not good news.
You can be fooled by the statistics of small numbers. As the number of annual deaths got lower and lower, we have now reached the stage where one bad weekend can make it seem as if the road safety strategy is failing.
The individual tragedies that have happened have been relatively without pattern. We still get young males in single cars late at night which is the most typical Irish crash. But there have also been deaths that really do look like freak occurrences. It is very hard to see what else might be going on that is making 2013 so bad so far.
The economy could well be a factor. We know for sure that new car sales have not shown any signs of recovery and many of us have to work really hard to keep our existing cars on the road. In our last poll of Irish motorists we asked how people were getting on with everyday motoring expenses. Unsurprisingly, it is hard going.
Nearly 60 per cent of Irish drivers say that they have struggled to find the money to pay for their fuel, car tax, motor insurance or the NCT. In fact we had one person tell us that at one stage last year they actually took a week off work because they could not afford to put petrol in the car and so simply couldn’t do the commute.
It cost him a week’s holidays which he said he could not afford to take anyway. We have heard from others who have left the car in the driveway for weeks and weeks because they just did not have the money to insure it or to pay the tax bill.
These people are some of the worst hit victims of this awful recession: the working poor. Not actually unemployed but earning so little that household bills just cannot be met.
I would imagine that evidence of this is everywhere. Spending is down across the economy because so many people do not have the money and those who do are afraid to spend it. They fear being broke themselves next month.
When it comes to the effect on cars I don’t have to use my imagination as there is plenty of hard data to tell the tale. Seventy-nine per cent of private cars in Ireland are four years and older while 60 per cent are six years and older. New car sales will do well to reach 70,000 this year, 40 per cent of what they were during the boom years.
What does this mean on the roads? Well it should mean some reduction in general traffic levels. This has happened over the last few years and is one reason why road deaths have been trending downwards up to now.
It also means that more and more cars are out on the roads in poor condition. In the AA we are seeing an increase in the number of breakdowns relating to steering, suspension and brake issues, problems commonly associated with wear and tear.
It is clear that we not only have a population of older cars but that they are less well maintained as well. If you have a choice between buying new tyres and paying the mortgage this month you can be sure that the tyres will be what gets put on the long finger.
While understandable, this cannot be good for road safety.