THE average of 127 drownings per year over the 10-year period from 2008 to 2017 should concentrate people’s minds on the importance of water safety, especially coming up to what is usually the biggest holiday weekend of the year. The fact that five people have been drowned here every fortnight over that length of time is frightening and fatalities from drownings are not far behind the figures from road deaths, which – unfortunately – have shown a 3% increase in the first half of this year over the same period in 2017.
Irish Water Safety, Coast Guard and RNLI have renewed their joint appeal to the public to stay alert to the risk of drowning at all times. We have had an excellent summer this year, which has seen more people out and about, and this is about to peak over the August bank holiday weekend, especially in places such as West Cork. The warm summer weather has drawn a lot more people to the water to cool down and this has led to some drownings, especially in areas without water safety equipment or lifeguards.
The advice for being safe in the water is so basic, but yet so often ignored as people sometimes get carried away in the exhilaration of water-based activities. The main thing is to never swim alone and to stay within your depth, ideally at beaches and waterways where lifeguards are on duty and always heed their advice.
Those in boats – sailors, anglers, etc – should always wear a properly-fitted personal flotation device. This applies to people fishing from the shore too. The sea must always be respected even in the best of weather.
If you see somebody in trouble in the water, or if you think they are in trouble, dial 112 and ask for the Coast Guard. Help them if you can, but without risking your own life too. Quite often people attempting rescues without fear for their own safety become drowning victims too.
Meanwhile, the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána has released provisional figures for road fatalities for the first half of 2018 and they reveal that 78 people died on Irish roads in 73 collisions. These included 39 drivers, 12 passengers, 18 pedestrians, three motorcyclists and six pedal cyclists, and Cork had the highest number of fatalities with 11 road users dying.
Eleven drivers and three passengers killed were not wearing a seatbelt. The figures represent 3% more collisions and 3% more deaths compared to provisional Garda data for the same period in 2017.
Chillingly, the RSA has warned that, if the current trend continues, up to 78 more people could die before the end of this year. None of us want to become one of them.
Almost two-thirds of road deaths occur on rural roads, so extra caution is needed across the area with more tourists who may not be familiar with our highways and byways using them now and a lot more agricultural machinery out at virtually all hours. Moyagh Murdock, chief executive officer of the RSA, pulled no punches when she said: ‘These statistics show that it’s the behaviour of road users on rural roads, our local roads, which poses the greatest danger to people.’
As well as due care being taken by drivers by not driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and ensuring that they and all their passengers are wearing seatbelts, other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians need to be seen by wearing high-visibility clothing. Simple precautions, but unfortunately they are not always observed.
The 2017 Road Safety Performance Index, compiled by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) showed that Ireland has moved up from fifth to fourth place in the EU Member State rankings for road safety. On average, 70 people still lose their lives on the roads of Europe every day.
Ireland had the fourth-largest decline in road deaths amongst the EU28 countries between 2016 and 2017; a total of 157 people lost their lives on Ireland’s roads in 2017 compared to 186 in 2016. While that is gratifying, statistically, it is no consolation to the survivors of those who lost loved ones on our roads.
Road users are the only people who can reduce the carnage by taking responsibility for their own actions and exercising caution at all times. Let’s start by being on our best behaviour this weekend on land and in the water, so that we all can have the best possible time, and try to keep it going after that for everybody’s benefit.