Passenger deaths since start of the year almost equals entire number killed in 2019, RSA figures show

Road safety advocates express alarm at huge spike in number of passenger deaths in just two months, with speeding, not wearing seat belts and mobile phone usage main factors

21/07/2017 -- Generic Garda traffic accident road signs search words crash collision Gardai road block
Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Alarm has been expressed over a spike in the number of car passengers who have died on Irish roads since the start of the year, with the total in less than two months just four fewer than the number killed in the whole of 2019.

Eleven of the 33 people killed on Irish roads from January 1st to the middle of last week were passengers. At 33 per cent of the total, that proportion is significantly higher than the rate of 13 or 14 per cent that has been recorded in past years.

According to figures from the Road Safety Authority’s (RSA) research unit, the number of passenger fatalities between the beginning of the year and February 22nd has been the highest recorded in recent years, and four more than in the same period in 2023, which was itself an outlier for passenger deaths.

Last year a total of 34 passengers died on Irish roads, compared to 15 in 2019, 25 in 2020, 18 in 2021 and 22 in 2022.

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If the current rate of passenger deaths is maintained over the course of this year, than the number could exceed 40.

“We are not even at the end of February and we have all these passengers who have been killed. It is heartbreaking to think maybe some of those people could be alive today had they been wearing seat belts,” said Susan Gray of road safety group Parc.

“We don’t know how many of those who were killed were wearing seat belts but we do have this massive increase in passenger deaths when compared with previous years,” she said. “It is important to highlight it so we don’t see the increase continuing as the year goes on, and it is a stark reminder to everyone who gets into a car that they need to wear a seat belt – it really is a matter of life and death.”

Meanwhile, a man in his 20s died when the car he was driving crashed near Passage West in Co Cork at about 2.30am on Sunday. Two passengers who were also in the vehicle were taken to Cork University Hospital. Their injuries are understood to not be life-threatening.

According to the RSA data, 46 per cent of the passenger fatalities last year were on weekends, while 68 per cent of the victims were aged 35 or under. More than four out of five of those who were killed died on rural roads where the speed limit is 80km/h or more.

Based on information from the Coroner’s Courts from 2015 to 2019, the RSA said excessive speed was a factor in 26 per cent of the deaths, with alcohol or drugs involved in 37 per cent of the fatalities.

Of the 264 driver fatalities where there was a record, 40 per cent were not wearing a seat belt.

The RSA also highlighted the danger of mobile phone usage, with drivers using devices four times more likely to be involved in a collision.

Similar to mobile phone use, capturing fatigue as a contributory factor in road traffic collisions is an internationally recognised challenge, the RSA said, but fatigue is estimated to play a role in up to 20 per cent of road traffic collisions.

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Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast