Home > Joint Committee on Transport. Road Safety Strategy: discussion.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Transport. Road Safety Strategy: discussion. (08 Feb 2017)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/joint_...

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross): I share the Chairman's sentiments about condolences. There was another fatal accident yesterday and I express my sympathies to the family, as I did in the Seanad yesterday. I also thank the committee for the invitation to come here today to discuss what may be the most emotional subject in my Department. Saving lives is a very high priority, if not the top priority, and that is what we are here to do today. If any member of the committee wants to make suggestions or talk to any of my officials afterwards about certain situations they think could be remedied in a certain way, they are welcome to do so. I am happy to give a certain amount of time to people to talk in private and public about this issue because it is so important. I hope they will take that in the spirit in which it is meant.


I think we all agree that the increase in road fatalities in 2016 to 188 is deeply disappointing. The number of fatalities as a result of a road traffic collision in 2015 was 162. While this was the second time in the past five years that record low numbers were seen, the reality is that each of those deaths is one too many. Notwithstanding the fact that has also been an upward trend in road fatalities over the past few years in Europe and in the US, we must all work to ensure that the upward trend at home is reversed. I think people should realise that despite the fact that 2015 was a good year, the two preceding years were bad. It is never a good year but 2015 was an improvement while 2016 was a continuation of the upward trend in road fatalities we have seen in the past four years. That is a very serious acknowledgement. My officials, the Road Safety Authority and I are working to tackle the main causes of serious road collisions causing death and major injuries. We have identified the four main causes of death and serious injury on our roads. They are speeding, intoxicated driving, use of mobile phones and non-wearing of seat belts. Our road safety strategy must place a renewed focus on addressing these four killer behaviours. We are launching a sustained attack on drunk drivers.


To improve road safety, we need to keep up the pressure on all fronts - enforcement, engineering, education and awareness, driver training and vehicle standards. On all these fronts, I am actively considering what measures can be introduced to curb the devastating rise in road deaths last year and to reverse this trend. My Department, local authorities and I continue to push forward with this multi-pronged approach. The Road Safety Authority, the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána, local authorities, the Health and Safety Authority, the Office of the Attorney General and I are now meeting quarterly, which is a doubling of meetings in a year, to tackle the upward trend in road deaths. I convened the latest meeting of the ministerial committee on 12 January as a meeting that was not scheduled and have arranged a further meeting that will take place next month as a direct result of the figures that are coming in.  The figures for this year have not improved. They are the same today as on this day last year. We are five or six weeks into the new year.


At our last meeting, in January, I very much welcomed the assurance by An Garda Síochána that there will be an increase of 10% in the traffic corps during the course of 2017, resulting in more checkpoints and greater enforcement of traffic law, and that road safety enforcement is a priority in the 2017 Garda policing plan. Resources are somewhat sparse but the Garda has responded to these figures in a way that is meaningful and that I hope will produce results.


The road safety strategy for the period 2013 to 2020, which sets out the Government's plans for road safety and contains 144 separate actions, is currently undergoing a midterm review, and a meeting of stakeholders to facilitate this review was held in Dublin Castle last November. I attended part of it. The Road Safety Authority is currently completing a report on this review, which I understand will be presented to me in the coming weeks. Reports and reviews are no longer enough, and reports about reviews are no longer enough. We are committed to taking action now in a very proactive way, as seen from the programme of legislation and other measures that I will outline.


Regrettably, there is no single action or silver bullet to decrease the number of deaths and serious injuries from collisions on our roads. There are heavy penalties under road traffic legislation to ensure those detected are severely punished. The new Road Traffic Act 2016, just passed, contains further measures to make our roads safer. That Act, which was signed into law on 27 December 2016, includes new road safety measures dealing with drug driving, mutual recognition of driving disqualifications with the United Kingdom and a new optional 20 km/h speed limit in built-up areas. These new provisions will be commenced as soon as humanly possible. I am extremely concerned over the statistics on intoxicated driving. I am determined to tackle this area, and it is being tackled as a matter of urgency. The RSA's research indicates alcohol was a contributory factor in 38% of collisions in the period 2008 to 2012. These figures may be out of date but they are alarming and the most up to date available. Anecdotal evidence is that alcohol is a contributory factor in an even higher proportion of fatal accidents.


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