The Irish Times view on road safety: Maintaining progress

New road safety strategy has set a target of halving annual road deaths by 2030

In 1998, 458 people lost their lives in crashes in the Republic of Ireland, making the State’s roads among the deadliest in the European Union. Last year, the figure was 133. Photograph: iStock

One of the most important if occasionally overlooked social achievements of the past decade or so has been the dramatic decline in the number of people killed each year on the roads. In 1998, 458 people lost their lives in crashes, making the Republic's roads among the deadliest in the European Union. Last year, the figure was 133, making 2021 the safest year on record on Irish roads. Only one EU state, Sweden, has a better record.

Like all social advances, progress on road safety is attributable to a combination of policy and personal decisions. Rising public anger, often vocalised by bereaved families, over the disgraceful death toll in the 2000s forced successive governments to take serious steps to clamp down on speeding through stronger enforcement and punishment of offenders. Just as significant was a political willingness finally to take on the lobby groups who for too long had stood in the way of a zero-tolerance policy towards drink-driving. Better roads helped, as did greater enforcement focus by An Garda Síochána and a stronger policy focus symbolised by the establishment of the Road Safety Authority in 2006.

Road safety strategy

As a result of all of this, hundreds of lives have been saved. But there is much more work to be done. A new road safety strategy, published last month, set a target of halving the number of annual road deaths by 2030 and completely eliminating motoring fatalities and serious injuries by 2050. The focus ought increasingly to be on protecting the most vulnerable road users, cyclists and walkers in particular, so the pledge to either begin or complete 1,000km of segregated walking and cycling facilities by 2025 must be fulfilled. For the first time, the road safety strategy includes a budget, bringing together what various State agencies are to spend on the issue. That will assist in ensuring momentum is maintained.

Road safety cannot be disconnected from the climate agenda. One of the most effective ways of making roads safer will be to have fewer people driving on them and to make it easier to choose more sustainable ways of getting around.