I am very happy to continue to serve in this capacity as Chair of the Road Safety Authority. It has been an honour to contribute to the organisation and ambition of the Road Safety Authority for the past five years.
I would like briefly to put on the record a recognition of the work that Gay Byrne, my predecessor as Chair, put into the Road Safety Authority. He was the first Chair and served two terms. Because he was such a fabulous broadcaster in every way, an interviewer of people and a chat show host, it would be a shame if his contribution to road safety was a footnote in his career. He made a very big difference to public awareness.
The aim of the RSA is quite simple. It is to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce the number and severity of road injuries. To achieve success in delivering this is quite complex. Although the RSA is the lead agency in co-ordinating the Government's road safety strategy, we depend absolutely on collaborations with stakeholders and partners such as An Garda Síochána.
Since the Government’s first Road Safety Strategy 1998–2002, the number of deaths on Irish roads has fallen from 458 in 1998, which is an extraordinary number, to 140 in 2019. Ireland's safest year on record was in 2018 with 139 deaths reported. None of the success could have been possible without all the stakeholders. It is the Government’s road safety strategy and many people have contributed to its success by working in a co-ordinated way.
Unfortunately, this year we have seen an increase in fatalities, with 11 more people dying on our roads this year compared with last year. This is a concern and emphasises the need to continue focusing on educational and enforcement measures to tackle the main causes of collisions. A breakdown of road deaths is included in the appendix accompanying my statement. Having said that, Ireland is now a world leader in road safety, which is to the credit of the Irish people and the efforts made by successive governments. Ireland is now ranked the second safest European Union member state in 2019 after Sweden and the fourth safest country in the world. At an EU level Ireland is contributing to helping less progressive nations in Europe to improve their road safety performance.
The current road safety strategy started in 2013 and concludes at the end of this year. Between 2013 and 2019 fatalities have reduced by 26% in Ireland while EU 27 rates have reduced by only 6%, so we are doing well. The new road safety legislation has had a positive impact on behaviour. For example, there were new laws for learner drivers, safe overtaking of cyclists, the introduction of screening for drug-driving at the roadside, tougher penalties for drink driving, and an increase in penalty points for speeding and for seat belt and mobile phone offences.
The introduction of the Garda mobility enforcement app has made a big difference to the capacity of the Garda for enforcement. The graduated driver licensing system saw the introduction of the novice grade for newly qualified drivers and a lower penalty points threshold for both novice and learner drivers.
As for the new Government road safety strategy, we are now entering into the next ten years. It is a very exciting time for the Road Safety Authority, and we look forward to the next ten years. We are putting in place new measures and engaging with all our partners. More than 2,000 members of the public have made submissions to the Road Safety Authority for the next strategy. That is very encouraging.
The vision zero approach is the way forward at European level, and we hope to play our part in that.
I am trying to summarise as much as I can. The next road safety strategy is an opportunity to improve and broaden the base of our studies, research and data collection and to look more seriously at the number and gravity of serious injuries on the road. Our remit in the legislation is to reduce the severity of fatalities and serious injuries, so that will be a main focus. At a practical level we are engaging with our key partners, namely, An Garda Síochána, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, the Health and Safety Authority, the Department of Justice and local authorities. All these bodies will be extremely important in improving road safety in the next ten years.
Like other organisations, the RSA has been materially impacted throughout 2020, both financially and operationally, by the Covid-19 health emergency. We have put measures in place that allow for the operation of our services in a safe manner, adhering to public health guidelines. Doing so has, of course, reduced capacity. However, protecting RSA customers and staff is our primary goal. While we have resumed most of our public services and continued to operate most services through the current level 5 lockdown, they have, as I said, been operating at reduced capacity. I am very aware that the issue of most concern and frustration for our customers and for this committee, I am sure, is the delay in driving tests arising from Covid-19. The RSA has taken steps to increase our capacity and we have made a formal submission to the Department of Transport seeking sanction for the recruitment of additional driver testers. In October we made a submission for the recruitment of 80 extra driver testers, and I am hopeful that that will be approved soon. The RSA has continually engaged with the Department of Transport on its financial position because, unfortunately, Covid-19, the suspension of our services and the loss of revenues have really affected our finances. We are hoping to continue this engagement with the Department.
If the committee ratifies my nomination today, I will continue in my role as chairperson working with my fellow board members and the staff of the RSA and other agencies to prevent further needless loss of life and injury from road trauma.