In Donegal, a few hard truths must be accepted on road safety

Opinion: Pub car parks are full, drink driving is rising but county’s traffic corps is down 50%

The number of gardaí in the Traffic Corps in Donegal has fallen 50 per cent since 2008. Photograph: The Irish Times

The number of gardaí in the Traffic Corps in Donegal has fallen 50 per cent since 2008. Photograph: The Irish Times

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Here in Donegal we have a great reputation for the beauty of the landscape.

But we now have an even greater reputation for the dreadful madness and carnage on our roads. Some people I know would not dare to holiday in Co Donegal such is our appalling road safety record.

The size of our problem means it is now clear that Donegal needs more policing resources, beyond what other counties get. A cursory glance around the county at night shows that drivers are no longer deterred from drink driving. The pub car parks are full again.

Yet, while our need is great, the strength of the Donegal Traffic Corps members is down by 50 per cent since 2008.

When it comes to policing, Donegal seldom gets priority.

Many pubs obviously do not fear a raid, when they serve drink after hours, as they do. Garda checkpoint numbers are also down. The stark reality is that as the numbers of checkpoints have fallen, the number of drink drivers has risen.

In Donegal, a few hard truths must be accepted.

Drivers are quite obviously breaking the law and doing so with impunity.

We also have problems with the investigations carried out by Gardaí and with the disciplining of those who have erred.

This is not a new problem in Donegal. It has existed at least since before my husband Steve was killed in December 2004 by a learner driver, Michael McColgan, which led to a “chaotic and poorly conducted investigation”, the Garda Ombudsman later found.

Nothing was submitted to the forensic science laboratory following the investigation into the crash. “What was done amounted to the seizure of two parts of a broken mirror and some video/photography by a sergeant,” said the Garda Ombudsman report a decade later.

Today, there is a rise in the numbers of drivers coming into the courts in Donegal on penalty point offences for speeding and drink driving.

Many hope that if they state that they did not receive the speeding fixed charge notice that the charge will be struck out. Often, it is.

Based on what I and other Parc Road Safety Group members have seen in the district courts an alarming number of those charged with speeding are escaping conviction.

The Government is dragging its feet on the removal of this “get-out clause”. The court poor box is still being used by some district justices in the county for speeding offences. Too often, drivers are escaping.

Being a Border county creates extra problems for Donegal. Drivers disqualified in one jurisdiction can still drive with impunity in the other - a continuing scandal that was brought to the attention of Paschal Donohoe when he was Minister for Transport January 2015.

However, he insisted on tagging the legislation necessary to ensure mutual recognition of disqualified drivers onto the 2016 Road Traffic Bill, rather than putting it through as a separate piece of legislation as Parc had pleaded.

The Donegal International Rally, held last month, glorifies the modification of cars and driving at speed.

Since then, as always happens after the rally, the instances of road traffic offences by young drivers rises. Many do not have the sense or discipline to realise that rallying is not day-to-day driving.

Drivers’ education does not begin with the theory and driving test. It begins in the home when children learn respect, self-discipline, responsibility and empathy. Effective parenting can be a challenge to ensure that children grow into responsible drivers and citizens.

The economic collapse and the cutbacks that resulted have meant that a bad situation has worsened.

In Co Donegal there is a Pro Social Driving Programme - the first in Ireland. Young drivers summonsed to court on dangerous driving offences are often directed by the judge to complete a 12-hour course before he decides on conviction.

Such initiative are welcome if they improve driving standards but we wonder if it is merely another ‘get out of jail’ card for those who do not follow the rules of the road.

The programme claims it is successful and it has been honoured by one victims’ group.

However, PARC and the Joint Justice and Transport Committee have both consistently asked for figures to back up the claims that those who attend the programme do not commit road traffic offences afterwards.

Those figures have not been supplied. The Road Safety Authority and the Department of Transport must look into this.

Those who have grieved before in Donegal, and those who grieve today, expect and deserve no less.

Susan Gray is the founder of the Parc Road Safety Group

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