The Irish Times view on the latest road death statistics: a worrying trend requiring a response

Road deaths fell sharply during the lockdown years but are now sharply on the rise again. It is time to return to the basics of prevention and enforcement.

One of the tragic consequences of the return to normal life after the Covid-19 restrictions on public movement has been a rise in the number of road traffic fatalities. Last year 156 people lost their lives on Irish roads, 19 more deaths than the previous year, or an increase of 14 per cent on 2021.

The worrying trend has continued into this year. January was the deadliest on the roads in a decade, with 18 people dying in road traffic fatalities – four more than the previous January. The last time the figures were higher was in 2013.

The increases have been coming off historic lows. There were just four deaths in the month of January 2021 and that year was the lowest for fatalities (136) since road deaths first started to be recorded in 1959. When you break down the figures for fatalities for last month – 11 drivers, one motorcyclist, four pedestrians and two passengers – the personal tragedies around each death become more real.

Sadly, we are now back to pre-Covid patterns. The Road Safety Authority told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport yesterday that there had been a rise in deaths at weekends and at night compared with 2021, which it attributed to the reopening of the night-time economy.


The causes of most road traffic accidents are obvious and easily preventable. Researchers have found that speeding, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or while distracted, and failing to wear a seat belt are all key contributory factors not only here but across Europe.

Fewer motorists on the road during Covid-19 lockdowns and the shutdown of bars and restaurants showed how road deaths fell when alcohol was largely taken out of the equation. Now that movement patterns are back to normal, tackling the root causes of road collisions with new strategies is critical. For example, the World Health Organisation estimates that a 5 per cent reduction in average speeds could result in a 30 per cent reduction in fatal collisions.

It’s simple: reduce speeds and you reduce road deaths.

The Government’s current road safety strategy aims to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on Irish roads by 50 per cent by 2030, setting a target at 130 or fewer for that year. Enforcement will be key to reaching these targets. The then minister for justice Helen McEntee disclosed last July that the number of dedicated gardaí in road policing units across the country fell from 733 in December 2020 to 696 in June 2022. This is not a trend that will help to reduce road deaths.

More dedicated traffic gardaí, more speed traps and new hard-hitting messages to tackle speeding, driving when drunk or under the influence of drugs, or when distracted by phones must be considered to prevent road deaths creeping up yet further.