EVERY year hundreds of people are killed on our roads and an untold number injured. It beggars belief that this carnage is allowed to continue - yet it is.
Can we dramatically reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads, or is the problem beyond redemption? The answer, in my view, is yes to the first part and no to the second. Changes can take place - but only if the proper political will exists. It is time for our Government and the opposition parties to come together and shout stop, ‘enough is enough’. What we need now is strong leadership from all parties, not political posturing on this most serious of issues.
Progress on the issue of road deaths was achieved in France when President Chirac took it on himself to get involved, the number of road fatalities being reduced by a significant amount as a direct result of this intervention.
So what can be done here? Well, firstly an urgent Dáil debate on the matter is needed. Procrastinating will not help, nor will lip-service. This is one of the biggest killers in this country.
Speeding is obviously one of the main problems and, while the penalty points system went so far in tackling it, it did not go far enough in terms of punishing the offence. The little old lady or gent who, unwittingly, drives at 55kph in a 50kph zone is treated exactly the same as the lunatic who drives at speeds of up to 200kph on main roads where a 100kph limit applies. They both get two penalty points.
Anyone caught driving at dangerous speeds should be made to pay immediately for doing so, by losing his or her licence on the spot or even by having his or her his car taken off him or her. Is that not better than killing himself or herself or killing some innocent person? The only way to stamp out reckless speeding is to make the penalty so severe that it is not worth the risk.
Another matter that must be addressed is the training of drivers. Is it not absolutely ridiculous that in this country a 17-year-old can drive a high-powered vehicle without any training whatsoever?
Is it not also ridiculous that in the year 2006 we still do not have a properly legislated, mandatory driving instructors’ register in this country (the only country in Europe not to have one)? A voluntary register was set up in 1996 by the then minister, Brendan Howlin, with a promise it would be mandatory within three years.From enquiries I have made, it appears as if this step is still at least two years away, but given that driving instructors themselves (through their association) have been lobbying governments since 1971 for this move, I am not hopeful that this deadline will be met either. How can we train our young people to drive properly if we do not have properly qualified instructors?
In England they seem to be getting to grips with the road problem. There a young person gets a provisional licence at 17, does the test at 18 and goes on probation for the next two years, if they pass. If they get two penalty points while on probation, they are made to re-do their test. Practically 100 % of young people take an average of 48 driving lessons in England, while the vast majority in this country do not take any and if they do it is usually one or two before their test. (It is also farcical that a person can take their driving test, be told they are not competent enough to drive on our roads, then drive their car away from the test centre, unaccompanied.) There is no reason why we could not replicate the English system here.
There is another good system in Canada whereby young people do 40 hours of theory and 40 hours practical driving and at the end of that receive a 50% reduction in their insurance from day one.
These are only a few areas where things can be done in the short term to reduce the carnage on our roads. Other issues, like the state of our roads, will take much longer to solve, but cutting the carnage must start now.
Dramatic improvements can be made with the will and the leadership to do so.
David Hall is a qualified driving instructor and a former Chairman of the Motor Schools Association of Ireland and former Director of the Driving Schools Register