THE frightening number of people dying on the roads in Ireland is sadly increasing with each passing week. The grim statistics warrant repeating: up until June 20 this year 185 people have been killed on Irish roads. That is an increase of eleven fatalities for the corresponding period last year. It seems with wearying frequency that every time we turn on the news on radio or television we are confronted with yet another catalogue of disaster, with the numbers of grieving families mounting all the time.
Sadly, all indications are that the numbers will continue to rise and rise and by the end of the year the number of deaths from vehicle-related accidents will probably surpass last year’s total of 396.
These figures force serious questions to be asked of the Government as to what will be done to combat this most serious of issues and whether or not their initiatives thus far to drastically cut the numbers dying each week are having any effect. But the Government can not solely be blamed for the problems on the roads. The public must also face up to its responsibilities and accept that they too have a role to play in ensuring that our roads become safer for everyone.
One of the areas which is being looked at to buck the tragic trend of road deaths is to tighten up the regulations for road users and to educate people in road safety.
Driving tests are one area that will undergo a rigorous shake-up. It is hoped that by increasing awareness of road safety among learner drivers and integrating this into the driving test, it will encourage better driving and hopefully cut down on the scandalous loss of life that we have almost become immune to in the last number of years.
The European Union and national governments are co-operating on ways of reducing the death toll on Europe’s roads. The target is to halve the number of road fatalities in the Union by 2010. To achieve this, European transport ministers agreed last December that four main areas required immediate action:
1. To enforce existing rules of the road and encourage better, safer driving
2. To make vehicles safer - encourage continued research into safety, particularly using new technology.
3. To improve road infrastructure - particular attention to be paid to reducing accident ‘black spots’
4. To collect and share knowledge and ideas on ways of improving road safety
The issue of improving road infrastructure is one taken up by John Bourke, who runs Bourke Driving School in Castlebar. Mr Bourke has definite ideas as to what is causing the high number of crashes.
“I really think that the smooth surfaces on the roads are leading to a lot of crashes. The top of the road resembles the top of a kitchen table at times, it is so smooth. Any sign of frost or rain on the surface and it suddenly becomes so dangerous. When the roads were that much more rough, even bald tyres could find a grip on the road because the tar and chips brought greater grip for the car to hold to the road that much better.”
The power of cars, especially those driven by young men and women, is also a concern for Mr Bourke. “Some of the cars being driven by youngsters today are too ‘souped-up’. They end up being too powerful and for inexperienced drivers they are extremely hard to control.”
As an instructor, Mr Bourke is keenly aware of the habits of drivers who are looking to pass their driving tests. Unfortunately many use driving lessons as a quick-fix and not a real school of training. Mr Bourke explains: “A large number of those people who come to me have their driving test looming, and only come in for one or two lessons right before the test. Then you also have a lot of people who will fail their test and only come for lessons again when they get called for the next test. It does not make sense. Anybody who is serious about passing their test first time really should be taking lessons a long time before the test. Without proper tuition and plenty of practice with an experienced instructor, people will develop bad habits and will become bad drivers as a result. Even worse, they might be dangerous drivers.”
Ari Vatanen MEP, the 1981 World Rally Champion, is a man who knows a thing or two about driving. Now the Finnish-born politician is steering through new measures in the European Parliament in the form of the European Road Safety Agency, which will be responsible for the collection and sharing of up-to-date information on road safety. Vatanen takes his job very seriously and is intent on reducing the mortality rates throughout Europe. “Politicians must take responsibility, no single death on the road is acceptable,” he has said.
In agreeing with the sentiments of Vatanen, the Irish Government are intent on improving driver testing and to this end have recently announced stricter guidelines for driving instructors, who themselves will undergo rigorous testing. New driving tests will also be introduced in the coming months to try and give new drivers a proper grounding in safety measures, while it has also been mooted that current licence holders will be require to retake their driving test every three years or so, to encourage quality driving on our roads.
For the sake of everybody, from pedestrians to drivers, change is needed and it is needed before the problem spirals horribly out of control.