‘Low hanging fruit’ in road safety has been taken, conference hears

Experts say new strategy 2021-2030 will have to focus on walking, cycling and urban roads

The ‘low hanging fruit is all gone’ in terms of obvious road safety measures, an RSA conference has heard. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

The ‘low hanging fruit is all gone’ in terms of obvious road safety measures, an RSA conference has heard. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A key target in the Government’s Road Safety Strategy to reduce annual road deaths to 124 or less by 2020 is unlikely to be met, the Road Safety Authority has said.

Speaking at the authority’s annual conference in Dublin on Thursday, chief executive Moyagh Murdock said three out of the past four years had seen a record low in the number of people killed on the State’s roads. Last year’s figure of 146 was the lowest since record-keeping began.

But, she said, to reach the 2020 target a further 15 per cent reduction in fatalities was required, and Ms Murdock said; “I think we have to accept that the target may be missed”.

The number of people killed on the roads this year stood at 72 on Thursday, an increase of six on the same period last year.

A secondary, provisional target in the 2013-2020 strategy to reduce serious injuries by 30 per cent from 472 in 2011 to 330 in 2020, or 61 per million population, is also unlikely to be met. The RSA said this was because of improved vehicle safety which ensured that people did not die, but in some cases lived on with serious injuries.

The authority said the figures were also because of better reporting of serious injuries since 2014. The numbers rose from 508 in 2013 to 960 in 2017.

Michael Nolan chief executive of State road builder Transport Infrastructure Ireland has already warned that a Road Safety Strategy target for minor road safety measures was expected to be missed. Mr Nolan told the Oireachtas Transport Committee last year that the target of 150 road safety schemes on national roads would not be met.

“We will probably get to between 60 and 70 schemes, hopefully closer to 70 than 60,” he said. “We have a long list of schemes ready go through this process. Funding is the issue.”

Ireland’s performance in road safety was however praised by Matthew Baldwin, the European co-ordinator for road safety with the EU Commission, who addressed the RSA conference by video link from Brussels. Mr Baldwin said Ireland recorded 30 deaths per million of population in 2018, a figure that was significantly ahead of the European average of 50 deaths per million of population.

Ms Murdock told the conference that while progress was undeniable there remained key difficulties. She said some motorists who were banned from driving wouldn’t likely stop “until they are incarcerated”. Articulated lorry speeds and car speeds remained a problem along with the use of seat belts, she said.

Assistant Garda Commissioner David Sheahan told the conference the “low hanging fruit” in terms of measures to increase road safety had all been taken and a new strategy would have to consider best practice from around the world, including addressing urban deaths among pedestrians and cyclists.

RSA chairwoman Liz O’Donnell said the Government and the authority had come under criticism for “destroying rural Ireland” after taking action to end the practices of drink driving, excessive speeding and the failure to wear seat belts. But she said the authority “made no apology for it”.

Ms O’Donnell said a new road safety strategy to cover the years 2021 to 2030 would include extensive local and regional public consultation to consider how the reduction in road deaths could be improved. She said she believed that measures to ensure the safety of cyclists and walkers would feature strongly in the strategy.

Closing the conference Minister for Transport Shane Ross said the development of the new strategy would “crucially involve analysis of international experience and best practice”.