Death on the Roads
The disclosure that gardai in some districts of Laois-Offaly have been instructed to increase the number of charges for road traffic offences has caused a predictable furore. Some members of the Garda Representative Association apparently believe that implementation will absorb a great deal of extra man hours and will undermine relations between the force and the wider community. For others, the pilot scheme will be seen as a kind of "zero tolerance " for driving offences and a dangerous erosion of the discretionary power enjoyed by individual members of the force.
According to an internal memo, the Garda authorities in some local districts in Laois-Offaly are seeking an increase of 100 per cent in speeding charges, 50 per cent in drink-driving cases and safetybelt offences and a 25 per cent increase in charges for dangerous driving in some districts. Senior officers in the area are apparently not convinced that the numbers charged with driving offences in some districts reflect the priority given to road safety by the Commissioner, Mr Byrne.
Last year - amid increasing public disquiet about a spate of road deaths - the Garda authorities launched Operation Lifesaver in the Louth/Meath division; this has now been extended to the rest of the State. And last month, Mr Byrne again underlined his personal commitment to improved road safety when he highlighted the dramatic surge in road deaths and the need for more responsible driving behaviour.
It may be that Operation Lifesaver is already having an impact on road safety; 77 fatalities have been reported already this year compared to 105 at the end of March last year. There is little room for complacency; the annual number of road death in this State remains a matter of disquiet. Last year, a total of 453 people lost their lives in road accidents including 105 pedestrians. The new Garda initiative to reduce pedestrian deaths - which begins next week in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Waterford - is another part of the concerted effort by the force to reduce road deaths. Members will target jaywalkers and others whose irresponsible behaviour endangers public safety.
The more rigid enforcement of road traffic and pedestrian laws will, necessarily, require a readjustment in public attitudes. The public in this State has become accustomed to a relaxed approach in which the Garda enjoys the right to use his/her discretion and common sense.
Regrettably, the scale of the carnage on our roads requires a more robust approach. It must be abundantly clear to the speeding, reckless or careless driver - and the irresponsible pedestrian - that he or she will be dealt with in the most severe terms if they are apprehended by the Gardai. The performance targets outlined for some local districts in Laois-Offaly are a commendable attempt to give road safety the priority it requires. It is to be hoped that the same kind of enforcement will be demanded by the garda authorities across the State; the traditional softly-softly approach is no longer appropriate.