EASTER holidays have started for the schools and, for this long weekend, which will see the busiest period on our roads so far this year, come the usual warnings from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and An Garda Síochána to all road users to take extra care as they target motorists who continue to ignore the risks associated with using a mobile phone while driving.
Despite the introduction of tougher new laws and not having had any great weather extremes so far in 2019, the casualty list has grown again and this is something that has to be tackled, coming as it does in the wake of the lowest-ever number of road fatalities last year since recording of these grim statistics began back in 1959. The victims, however, are not mere statistics as there is a human story behind each fatality, which has a tragic knock-on effect on their families, and then there are the hundreds injured in collisions, which can sometimes be life-changing.
The provisional number of those killed on our roads in 2018 was 147. This is a huge improvement on the worst year on record, which was a staggering 640 fatalities in 1972 and was greater than the number of people killed in the Troubles in Northern Ireland that year.
However, the fact that the downward trend of recent years has been reversed in the first three months of this year is a real cause for concern – fatalities to date this year are up 6.66% on the same period last year. Holiday weekends are traditionally a high-risk period for alcohol and drug driving-related crashes and the fact that the pubs are now open on Good Friday adds to the amount of people who will be out socialising over the long Easter weekend.
Most people behave responsibly, as they should, leave their cars at home and are conscious of the effect alcohol still in their system the morning after a hectic night out may have on their driving. But there are always some who, for reasons best known to themselves, take the risk of driving when impaired by alcohol and they are a danger both to themselves and other road users.
In March, Gardaí reported a 17% increase in the number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs in the first two months of 2019 compared to the same period last year. This was in spite of the introduction of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018, which increased the penalties for drink driving at lower levels.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr Shane Ross, TD, warned that these penalties apply at any time: ‘Drink driving is drink driving whether it is at midnight or midday and any drink drivers detected with a blood alcohol concentration between 50mg and 80mg now face losing their licence for three months.’
The need for caution is not just confined to drivers of motorised vehicles: Pedestrians and cyclists need to be careful too and walking or cycling on roads at night – especially in unlit rural areas – can pose a danger to all road users, especially if a person is drunk or stoned and not wearing high-visibility clothing. Almost half of pedestrians killed on our roads had consumed alcohol, according to the RSA.
Apart from not driving under the influence of drink and/or drugs, the wearing of safety belts is vital and, of course, speeding continues to be a big factor in road traffic collisions. And, for those travelling long journeys to and from West Cork for the Easter weekend, remember that – as the motorway signs remind us – tiredness kills, so if you are drowsy, pull over have a rest and a coffee before resuming your journey.
Better to arrive late than never.