Employers urged to show zero tolerance of phone use by drivers
Road Safety Authority plans campaign after rise in number of road deaths in 2016
Moyagh Murdock: phone use while driving is “as dangerous as drink-driving”. Photograph: Sara Freund
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) will introduce a new campaign later this year to encourage employers to have a zero-tolerance policy on staff using mobile phones while driving.
Moyagh Murdock, chief executive of the RSA, said: “We need the employers to take more responsibility to ensure that their employees get that message, that there is zero tolerance about using mobile phones while driving.
“We want people to take heed of the risk they are posing to themselves and to other people. The message is very clear: if we didn’t have the level of enforcement and messaging out there, it could be a lot worse,”she told The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk on Monday.
Ms Murdock was commenting on the provisional figures for road deaths in 2016, which put the number of fatalities at 187, up from 162 in 2015, an increase of 15 per cent.
The highest numbers of fatalities were recorded in counties Cork and Dublin, with 21 each, followed by Limerick, with 16.
The mother of the singer Shane MacGowan became the first person to lose her life on the State’s roads in 2017. Therese MacGowan (87) died when the car in which she was travelling struck a wall at Ballintoher, near Nenagh in Co Tipperary, at about 3pm on Sunday.
Pedestrians and motorcyclists continue to be the most vulnerable road users, with 35 pedestrians and 21 motorcyclists killed in 2016, along with 10 pedal cyclists.
“Any loss of life is a tragedy, so there is no such thing as a good year. It all comes down to the same causes: alcohol, speed and seat belts,” Ms Murdock said. “Unfortunately, people are still taking unnecessary risks; they’re behaving irresponsibly when it comes to making that decision whether to drink and drive, and it’s had tragic consequences on our roads in 2016 despite all the messaging.”
She said this behaviour was particularly unfortunate in view of the recent campaign the RSA ran with the family of Ciarán Treacy. The hard-hitting advert, which ran in December 2016, told the story of four-year-old Ciarán, who died when the car he was travelling in was hit by a drunk driver.
“That was a very strong message that came out about how drink-drivers destroy lives,” Ms Murdock said. “Unfortunately, we still see too many people continuing on with that type of behaviour.
“I think people are still behaving very selfishly. They may have been doing this in the past and think they can continue to get away with it, but as you will have seen from the figures in December, the Garda Síochána were very public about their enforcement campaign.
“We accept that there are reduced numbers in An Garda Síochána, but they have been extremely strategic and targeted in their approach, indicating that there is still a problem with non-compliance, so even with the reduced numbers in the Garda Traffic Corps they are very effective at picking up people that take that line of action, and they will be caught.
“This December  was slightly better than last year, so we can assume there is a small number of people who drink and drive. Most people are very responsible, they do make other arrangements.
“I would say the campaign this year was very effective; the numbers could have been much higher only for it. I believe people are listening, but it is a small number [who are irresponsible] – it only takes one or two people to cause a serious crash and, tragically, we have to get those people to stop engaging in that behaviour.
“The best thing that could happen to them is that they are caught. The worst thing that could happen to them is that they are killed or they kill someone.
“There were over 738 people detected for drink-driving [in December] and today they will be waking up, maybe tomorrow facing into going back to work with some news for their employer saying that they will now be facing a driving ban. It could have severe career implications for them.
“The message from the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána is never, ever drink and drive.”
Ms Murdock said the new Road Traffic Bill, which passed in the Oireachtas before Christmas and was signed into legislation by President Michael D Higgins over the holiday period, will see a number of new measures coming into force, including roadside drug-driving testing.
“We will continue to campaign to get the message out there [that] you must always wear your seat belt, especially in the back seats – people seem not to be listening to that message,” Ms Murdock said.
She added that mobile phone use when driving is still a big problem in this country.
“This is a big problem. We have to get people to realise that it is so dangerous; it is just as dangerous as drink-driving,” she said.