The Irish Times view on the road safety Bill: A good day for road safety

An increase in road fatalities this year indicates the magnitude of the challenge

The latest road death figures demand action by the Garda Síochána, the Road Safety Authority and the motoring public. Photograph: John Giles/PA

The latest road death figures demand action by the Garda Síochána, the Road Safety Authority and the motoring public. Photograph: John Giles/PA

 

The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill has been passed by the Dáil and is now working its way through the Seanad. Hopefully, it will become law in the lifetime of this Government. That outcome was not always a foregone conclusion. Members of the Upper House recently engaged in a filibuster on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, contributing to a significant delay in its progression . The Dáil is still struggling to pass that Bill.

Some politicians pay little attention to the destructive impact of alcohol when it comes to public health or to road safety. It doesn’t matter that scientific research confirms the contribution made by small amounts of alcohol to road deaths. Similarly, medical advice on the social and public health costs of alcohol misuse is ignored when legislative action is proposed to limit alcohol sales. In the latter case, the drinks and retail sales lobbies have delayed and modified the Public Health Bill that proposes the segregation of alcohol sales and health-related labelling.

The latest road-death figures demand action by the Garda Síochána, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and the motoring public. The number of gardaí employed in the Traffic Corps is too low and visible policing remains sketchy. The RSA should exert pressure on the Government and the Policing Authority to address this shortfall but the main contribution will be required from members of the motoring public. An increase in fatalities during the first half of this year, along with more than 4,000 prosecutions for drink driving and 48,000 for speeding offences, indicate the magnitude of the challenge.

As for the canard that elderly rural motorists always conduct themselves in a sedate and cautious manner, the statistics show that two-thirds of fatalities this year occurred in rural areas while those most at risk were over 65 years of age. In addition, one-quarter of drivers were not wearing seat belts. No breakdown was given involving alcohol consumption. Road safety requires us all: drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists to keep within the law.

Passage of the Road Traffic Bill represented a small victory for culture change in our society. For a time, it looked as if a filibuster by Independent TDs, led by the Healy-Rae brothers, would derail the legislation. Refusing to accept that small amounts of alcohol contributed to road deaths, they pleaded the cases of elderly, isolated farmers and struggling publicans. They opposed penalising car owners who allowed provisional licence holders to drive alone. The legislation was presented as ignorant interference by Dublin elements.

Finally, when the great majority of TDs lost patience with their shenanigans and passed the Bill, they declared it was “a bad day for rural Ireland”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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