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.