Ireland’s road safety record has significantly improved in recent years, and in 2011 the European Transport Safety Council ranked Ireland the sixth safest EU country. Since 2007, when the current road safety strategy started, the number of fatalities has over halved. There were still 185 fatalities in 2011 and 9,742 injured in 2009 (most recent year available).
Road Safety Authority Chairman Gay Byrne told the Oireachtas Transport Committee last November that “in one sense, the heavy lifting has now been done in terms of the major policy interventions,” such as the clamp-down on drink driving, the introduction of safety cameras, schools-based education, vehicle standards, public awareness and behavioural change.
The Road Traffic (No 2) Act 2011 lowered the blood alcohol limits to the European norm of 50mg per 100ml of blood for all drivers, with a lower limit of 20mg for learner, newly qualified and professional drivers, and those unable to produce a driver’s licence. The Road Traffic (No 1) Act 2011 requires gardaí to breath-test all drivers involved in collisions at the new alcohol limit levels. A blood or urine sample must now be taken from a driver who is being treated in hospital following a collision.
Now the Government plans to introduce drug testing on those suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. Detection remains difficult because there is no apparatus to detect drugs similar to breathalysers for alcohol. A Department of Transport spokesman told eolas that the department has asked Medical Bureau of Safety to carry out a review of international developments to set a timescale for when a device could be introduced. If the technology exists, he said, drug breathalysing will be introduced in Ireland. If not, the Minister will legislate to allow for impairment testing (cognitive tests such as walking in a straight line), to assist gardaí.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has said that in 2012 it will increase the focus on reducing the number and severity of injuries and to sustain the reduction in road deaths. The Government has promised to publish legislation in this term to reform the testing of commercial vehicles, by transferring responsibility from local authorities to the RSA and providing for roadside inspections of vehicle conditions. AA Ireland’s Conor Faughnan said it would like to see more emphasis on the correction of speed limits (it is compiling a list of locations), a specific strategy on drugs and driving, targeting of specific behaviours (such as speeding, alcohol abuse by non-drivers, seat belt use) and a broadening of targets to include serious injuries. He believes speeding cameras have been “broadly successful.”
While the number of fatalities has dropped, serious injury statistics have been queried. The first national study on road traffic collision-related injuries in Ireland, ‘Admission to Acute Hospitals for Injuries as a Result of Road Traffic Collisions in Ireland 2005–2009’, found that the numbers estimated to have been seriously injured in road crashes, based on analysis of hospital admissions, was three and a half times higher than those estimated by the RSA (using An Garda Síochána data). An RSA spokeswoman said disparities arise because An Garda Síochána and the HSE data differ regarding the types of accidents included, the counting of hospital movements (e.g. hospital transfers) and the inclusion of A&E admissions.
2011 road safety statistics
Percentage of fatalities under 25 years of age: 34 per cent
Percentage of fatalities at weekend: 49 per cent
Percentage of fatalities by gender: 70 per cent male
Most dangerous hours: 4-6pm