I am very pleased to be here today to give the opening address at this very important conference on the Human Impact of Road Collisions. I hope that everyone finds this conference both informative and useful. The conference will be addressed by top level experts, from Ireland, the UK and America, working in the area of road safety, with particular emphasis on support for survivors and families of victims of road collisions.
Today’s conference is about providing a reminder of the potential dangers we face every day when using the roads but, more importantly, it focuses on those that have been affected by road tragedy. It’s an important reminder to us all that when we speak about road safety we are not talking about faceless statistics but real people.
The main purpose of this conference is to increase awareness of the long-term impact of road collisions on people’s lives, including survivors, victims’ families and those members of the emergency services who are on the front line dealing with the tragic after effects.
There is no corner of this island that has not been affected by road deaths and injury. The consequences of every collision are felt by many. Each has a devastating impact. Its effects ripple outwards like shock waves, from the individuals involved to family, friends, work colleagues and the wider community. As the RSA campaign says it’s not just those involved in a collision that crash, everyone crashes.
Every week, we read reports of people who have lost their lives on our roads and often we forget those who survive these collisions and who continue to live with life-changing injuries. Not only are they learning to cope with their injuries, but their families, friends and loved ones are also learning every day how to support them.
Similarly, for each fatality on the road, there are families and friends who are left behind to cope with the hurt and tragedy for the rest of their lives.
It is frightening to consider that almost 23,000 people have lost their lives on Irish roads since records began in 1959. A further 67,000 people have suffered serious life-changing injuries in crashes since serious injuries were first recorded in 1979.
Unfortunately, the number of people being killed and injured on our roads is the only way we can measure success in road safety.
If we all made just a small change it would make a big difference. For example, RSA research has revealed that reducing speed by just 5% could save almost 50 lives and prevent up to 100 serious injuries on our roads every year.
Over recent years, through the adoption of Road Safety Strategies, we have been able to identify and link measures that reinforce the advancement of the safety message. The current Strategy was the subject of a wide-ranging consultation process, not only with the public at large, but also with the key stakeholders.
The outcome of that process is reflected in specific actions, which are being delivered cooperatively by the designated organisations. It is no exaggeration to say that many people are alive today that would not be with us if it were not for the various measures of the Strategies that have been put in place
We should never lose sight of the reasons why we continue to invest our time, energy and money into road safety. We want to reduce needless suffering on families across the country and it is this objective that really underpins our own road safety strategies. The current Strategy is challenging and ambitious and has been designed to continue on the good work of previous strategies but also aims to build on progress by introducing new initiatives.
Road safety, particularly reducing road fatalities and serious injuries, is a key priority for the Government. I will make every effort to continue the work of my immediate predecessors in bringing road safety to the forefront and in introducing measures and supporting initiatives that will make a difference in terms of creating a safer environment on our roads.
The core objective of the current Road Safety Strategy is to reduce road deaths to no greater than 60 fatalities per million population by the end of 2012. This is an average of 21 road deaths per month or 252 deaths per annum. In 2010, we saw the lowest number of road deaths on Irish roads on record at 213. This means that the core objective has been reached well before its target date.
The Road Safety Strategy and all the other road safety measures appear to be working.
Last year road fatalities fell for their fifth consecutive year. For the third year in a row they have dropped to their lowest levels since road fatalities were first recorded in 1959. April 2011 saw the lowest number of road fatalities ever on record. In fact, in the last decade, road fatalities in Ireland have dropped by some 48%. Ireland is now the 7th best performing country out of 27 EU Member States in terms of road fatalities.
For those of us involved, however, we should regard this not as an achievement, but rather as a challenge. We must now, collectively, do all in our power to ensure that the 2010 figure is not exceeded this year, next year or any future year.
I would like to pay tribute to road users in Ireland for the manner in which they have embraced road safety and taken personal responsibility for their behaviour on our roads. While we have made considerable progress in recent years, I would ask everyone, whether on a personal or professional basis, to work together and redouble efforts with a view to making this our safest year yet.
The key determinant of road safety performance is the behaviour of road users and the primary focus of any strategy is positively to influence that behaviour. In Ireland, we are aiming to achieve this change by implementing initiatives across a range of areas. The enactment and enforcement of laws is central to this approach and these laws are underpinned and supported by the application of penalties such as fines, prison sentences and driving disqualifications as well as key technological resources.
I am committed to ensuring that the various elements required to make our roads safer for everyone in this country will continue to be implemented and I am very much focussed on delivering some key road safety measures in 2011.
The first piece of legislation enacted by this Government was the Road Traffic Act 2011. I am glad to say that I have signed the Commencement Order for the Act today and, as a result, mandatory breath testing is now a feature of our road traffic legislation.
The Act provides for the amendment of existing legislation, in advance of the lowering of the drink driving levels, so that a driver who, in the opinion of a member of the Garda Síochána, has consumed intoxicating liquor, will be required to give a preliminary breath specimen. The Act also provides for mandatory testing where a driver has been involved in a road traffic collision where injury has been caused.
Later this year we will see the introduction of the new lower drink driving limit. The limit will be reduced from the current level of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 20 milligrams for learner, novice and professional drivers and 50 milligrams for other drivers.
At the same time we will also see the introduction of roadside preliminary impairment testing. This will give the Garda Síochána powers to perform certain tests to assist them in forming the opinion as to whether the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle is under the influence of an intoxicant.
These measures, and others steps that have been taken in recent years, particularly relating to improved vehicle standards, will help in creating safer roads. However, personal responsibility, common sense, maintaining concentration are matters that it is impossible to legislate for but are vitally important components for drivers on our roads.
A lot of credit is due to the agencies who dedicate themselves to the prevention of road collisions: the Road Safety Authority, the National Roads Authority, the Garda Síochána, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, the Paramedics, members of the Fire Services and Local Authorities. I would also like to pay tribute to the excellent work done by groups such as PARC. Their unrelenting commitment to their cause keeps us all on our toes and ensures that there is no complacency or let-up in our collective fight to make Irish roads safer.