Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Questions (49)

Thomas P. Broughan


49. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on whether the Road Safety Authority, RSA, should upscale its road safety campaigns, especially in the case of speeding and aggressive driving practices, in view of the tragic and disappointing road traffic casualty figures to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39754/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Something like 112 people have tragically lost their lives on the roads this year, seven more than at this stage last year. The breakdown is 21 pedestrians, 59 drivers, 13 passengers, 12 motorcyclists, five cyclists and two pillion passengers. Does the RSA need to upscale its major campaigns to try to bring home the message to speeding and aggressive drivers in particular that their behaviour is perhaps the key cause of these tragic figures?

The figures for deaths on our roads this year are disappointing and a matter of serious concern for the RSA, the Deputy and me. We have seen a general long-term downward trend in road deaths on Irish roads over the past two decades. The number of road deaths dropped from 458 in 1998 to a record low of 144 in 2018, a decrease of more than 68%. This result has been achieved through the work of many people and organisations, better maintenance of roads, improved standards for and testing of vehicles, significant increases in the standard of driver training, and a wide variety of public messages to improve the awareness of safety among the road-using public, complemented by effective enforcement and the ongoing development of road traffic law, including a new regime for drug-driving and, most recently, tougher legislation on drink-driving, which I introduced last year. Organisations such as the PARC Road Safety Group and the Irish Road Victims Association, IRVA, should also be applauded and singled out for their bravery and the effectiveness of their road safety campaigns.

As is widely acknowledged, the lower the number of road deaths becomes, the more difficult it is to reduce the number of tragedies on our roads further. Last year's figure of 144 road deaths was a record low, as was the figure of 157 in 2017. We have always known that it is a challenge to keep up the pressure to reduce the figures further, as seen across Europe.

In general, speeding is one of the principal causes of deaths on our roads and roads across the world. In respect of recent road deaths, however, it is important to remember that the Garda is still conducting investigations into those cases. We should not prejudge what particular factors will turn out to have been involved in them.

I agree with the Deputy that the work of the RSA in getting the message out about the dangers of speeding and other irresponsible driving practices is an essential component in maintaining pressure. Speeding is a crucial factor in more ways than one. As the Deputy, who has taken a keen interest in road safety for many years, will be aware, speeding not only increases the risk of collisions, but significantly increases the probability of death or serious injury resulting from collisions. It is the single most important factor, nationally and internationally, in road deaths.

The RSA works strenuously every year to promote public awareness of road safety, including the danger of speeding. A targeted anti-speeding campaign was conducted last May, and another is planned for later in October, around national slow down day.

At the same time, it has always been the case that we need to act on multiple fronts. That is what we have been doing in the overarching framework provided by the national road safety strategy and which was reinforced by the mid-term review of the current strategy.

I am aware of the many campaigns the RSA has been pursuing, such as those on unaccompanied learner drivers, the wearing of seatbelts, crashed lives, the safe cross code and so on. Thursday, 26 September was European day without a road death, EDWARD, but there seemed to be little promotion of it, either here or Europe-wide. Next week, from 7 to 13 October is Irish road safety week and issues such as drink-driving, tyre safety, speeding, leading lights, motorcycle safety, drug-driving and driver fatigue will all presumably be highlighted. Is any research or evaluation being carried out on the impact of the RSA's current campaigns, which focus on singular issues? Would it not be better to concentrate on overall driver behaviour, including aggressive driving, tailgating and moving at great speed while changing lanes and overtaking? It might be better to focus on that in a broad, dramatic way in order to get the message across to drivers to slow down.

I am always open to suggestions from Deputy Broughan on reducing deaths, as he knows. I take his point about a lack of promotion of project EDWARD. The Deputy must not have seen much about it. A large media event was held to mark it last week in Dublin Castle, which was attended by me, the Garda Commissioner, the chief executive of the RSA and several other people who were involved. I do not know whether it attracted much publicity but I would guess, based on what the Deputy has said, that it did not. It is not within our power to tell the newspapers or media what to cover. Sometimes they cover the things we want them to and sometimes they do not. I was disappointed that it did not get much more coverage. It was a dark and difficult day for road deaths as there were two deaths on the roads just after midnight. The committee on road safety, on which I, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Garda, the RSA and others sit, meets every quarter. I would be happy to take the Deputy's suggestions to that committee.

The RSA's current road safety strategy aims to reduce collisions, deaths and injuries by 30%. There is huge interest across the world in the vision zero approach, which Sweden, other Scandinavian countries and Canada have been pursuing. It seems there is a lacuna in the RSA's requirement to develop and implement sufficiently successful information and education campaigns.

The other element of this issue is enforcement. Both this and the previous Government slashed the size of the traffic police by more than half. The Garda Commissioner says he wants to return the numbers of traffic police to more than 1,000 and get it back up to the kind of force we had in the mid-2000s. Is that something on which the Minister will work? We are also hearing that the tender for handheld devices has not even gone out yet.

Enforcement is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality. I understand that the Deputy is frustrated by the fact that there are not enough gardaí on the roads. There will probably never be enough gardaí on the roads for enforcement purposes, though numbers are increasing. I will convey the Deputy's message to the Minister for Justice and Equality when I see him at the next meeting on road safety, which he regularly attends.

The Deputy asked about speeding. My proposals for a graduated speeding penalty system, which will be more targeted and proportionate, are due to be considered shortly at a Cabinet committee. Evidence suggests that drivers continue to drive in excess of the safe legal speed limits. A more robust approach is needed-----

Members are waiting. I am not being critical, but the Minister's answers are going on too long. There is a two-minute rule and that is it. I am being more than reasonable. I know this is important, but the fact that we have only completed a few questions is an embarrassment. I must implement Standing Orders. I call Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who is taking the next question.