New road safety strategy won’t be exciting but will be important

This week the RSA will be publishing the latest Road Safety Strategy for Ireland. It will run for seven years taking us up to 2020.

The key measures will become well known in the coming days. In fact it is not all that revolutionary; a lot of the obvious measures that Ireland needed to take have already been done. To coin a fairly awful marketing expression, the ‘low hanging fruit’ has already been plucked.

Road Safety Strategies are not actually new for Ireland. The first clear strategy that had specific actions with dates and clear lines as to who was to do what was launched in 1997. We have made massive progress in road safety since then.

Success has many fathers and there is no shortage of people who deserve credit for what has been achieved. Not least among them are Irish motorists themselves, as I have said many times. Irish drivers have improved their behaviour to a huge extent.

For all of our success there was not a single original idea in the policies that were introduced. Penalty points, breath tests, a dedicated Garda Traffic Corps, proper driver tuition, roadworthiness tests, better roads, speed cameras. Every single one of those ideas had already been tried successfully elsewhere.

Really all we had to do was paint by numbers. Do here what had been proven to work elsewhere and expect to see similar results. This is not a criticism because it worked. In 1997 there were 472 people killed on Irish roads. Last year that number was 162.

Even the most cynical Irish motorist (with the exception of one or two who email me regularly ) would have to concede that those are pretty impressive numbers.

One of the problems now is where to go from here. For starters, the total number of deaths is now so low that it ceases to be useful as a statistical measure of success. We will need a better definition of what we are supposed to be tracking.

The new ‘buzzword’ will be ‘KSI’: Killed and Seriously Injured. Those serious injuries would normally run at about 2.5 times the number of fatalities. That gives us a larger number to track which is helpful in itself. It also gets us away from an excessive focus on the deaths.

Deaths are obviously important but some of those awful injuries are hardly less tragic. I visited the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire a year or two ago when the RSA staged a press event there. Talking to some of the people affected was extremely sobering. Those are lives and families ruined but they never went into the record books as far as popular perception was concerned because they didn’t actually die.

We also have to be a bit cleverer in terms of targeting. Speeding, seatbelts and drink driving are still very important (they haven’t gone away you know ). Other factors and other types of crash now need the same sort of attention.

Expect to hear about tougher rules for phone use, including an eye-catching provision whereby if you are involved in a serious crash the Garda will be able to check your phone records to see if you were on a call when it happened.

I don’t expect hands-free calls to be made illegal, in part because it is virtually unenforceable and there is no way to un-invent the technology. However hands-free calls are still distracting and are a bad habit. Employers for example have no business calling their people when they know they are on the road, Bluetooth or not.

There will also be a tightening of rules on NCT compliance, some focus on drug use, more cameras and a long overdue improvement in how speed limits are set across the network.

Not very exciting perhaps when compared to previous strategies. Nonetheless this is a chance for Ireland to demonstrate to itself and to others that we are serious about eliminating road deaths. 162 killed every year may be much better than it used to be but it you can hardly consider it acceptable either.


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