‘Alarming’ spike in fatal road crashes to date this year, with 83 people killed

Committee hears of increase in number of motorists found to be under the influence of drugs during Covid-19 pandemic

There has been an “alarming increase” in the number of people killed in road traffic collisions in the first half of this year, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Road safety officials and senior gardaí appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications to respond to questions about the increase in road fatalities.

There have been 83 deaths on the roads this year up to June 27th, a sharp spike compared to 51 deaths during the same period last year.

Fatalities to date this year included 41 drivers, 10 passengers, 17 motorcyclists, 12 pedestrians, two cyclists and one person using an e-scooter.

Prof Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, described the number of road deaths in the first six months of the year as an “alarming increase”.

Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell, chair of the committee, said the “significant increase” in road deaths during the last six months was a concern.

Paula Hilman, Garda Assistant Commissioner for roads policing, said there were “significant increases” in the number of motorists found under the influence of drugs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tests for drug-driving last year found 2,498 cases where motorists tested positive for cannabis and 1,369 cases where motorists had taken cocaine, while 620 tests found drivers to have taken benzodiazepines.

While the numbers found to be drink-driving dipped during the pandemic, the reopening of the economy and nightlife saw rates increase again back to pre-pandemic levels, Ms Hilman told the committee.

Prof Cusack said it was expected technology to have breathalysers fitted into new cars, to prevent the vehicle starting if the motorist was under the influence of alcohol, would be standard in the coming years.

Ms Hilman said figures showed Friday and Sunday were the days most likely to see fatal road collisions, and that half of crashes this year occurred between 10am and 6pm. The senior Garda said this stood in contrast to the “perception” that fatal crashes often only happened in the early hours of the morning.

Early data suggested alcohol was believed to be a factor in around one-fifth of the fatal collisions to date this year, with speed a likely factor in 29 per cent of the 83 deaths, she said.

Sam Waide, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), said the authority is planning an “in-depth review” of the profile of recent fatal and serious collisions, to determine peak times of day for road crashes.

Mr Waide said Longford had the highest number of road deaths per 100,000 people so far this year. Overall, the five counties with the highest number of fatalities to date were Cork, Dublin, Meath, Limerick and Wexford, he said.

Garda figures showed that out of more than 8,000 motorists checked by GoSafe vans monitoring speed during one day this week in a 120km/h zone, only seven were found to be driving above the speed limit, the committee heard.

Commenting on the increasing popularity of e-scooters, Prof Cusack said studies elsewhere in Europe had shown people using e-scooters under the influence of alcohol was “a problem”, as well as people not wearing helmets.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times