President urges road users to give each other gift of safe Christmas


PRESIDENT MARY McAleese yesterday appealed to drivers to “give each other the gift of a safe Christmas” instead of “the endless misery of a Christmas ruined by a road crash”.

Mrs McAleese was speaking as she launched a Christmas road safety campaign in the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire. The hospital which treated 200 serious brain injuries, 100 spinal injury cases and 26 amputees over the last five years, is the Republic’s main centre for rehabilitating crash victims.

Speaking after she toured the hospital, the President said driving while under the influence of drink or drugs was “selfish, dangerous, inexcusable and downright bad”.

She said: “No one has to drive without a seat belt, or with bald or underpressured tyres.

“No one has to speed, no one has to answer the mobile phone while driving, or check their lipstick or root around for a new CD or light up a cigarette.”

But she said “the cyclist travelling in the evening without lights or running the red, the driver who is careless about indicating, the pedestrian walking a country road at night in dark clothing are all people who have made stupid, life-threatening and utterly avoidable bad choices”.

Mrs McAleese thanked an audience which included gardaí, members of the Road Safety Authority, doctors and patients for their care in rebuilding shattered lives.

She commended the personal testimony of Paddy Lynch who lost his legs in a crash in July 2006 and said “in particular we thank the injured here today who are trying to educate us through the brokenness of their lives, and the courage that they exhibit in trying to make those lives as full as they can. We thank them for the way in which they educate us to the realities, the harsh, crass, brutal reality of road traffic injuries.

“Next to the cold graveyards that hold the bodies of those killed on our roads, this place knows more than any other about the broken bodies, the shattered lives that result from the simplest and ordinary of journeys to and from home, to and from work, to and from school, to and from the pub, the shop.”

Chairman of the Road Safety Authority Gay Byrne said road deaths represented only the tip of the iceberg in relation to road collisions. For each road death in the EU he said there were at least 44 injuries, some eight of which would be described as “serious”. Such injuries include life-long disablement with severe damage to the brain, spinal cord and other vital body parts, Mr Byrne said.

Dr Áine O’Carroll, a consultant at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, said as medicine advances it was becoming possible to save more lives and help those in road crashes to live longer. In this way the reduction in numbers being killed meant the services of the National Rehabilitation Hospital were more in demand than ever.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said a number of high visibility operations would be set up in the coming weeks. While the message was that if drivers broke the law, the likelihood was they would be caught, the commissioner said “my plea to drivers is that they face up to their responsibilities and stop reckless behaviour”.

The chief executive of Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society and, Fionnuala Sheehan, called on people to take responsibility for their own drinking this Christmas.

As of yesterday morning 216 people had been killed on the Republic’s roads so far this year. The figure compares to 259 for the similar period last year.