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Varadkar launches new Road Safety Strategy

Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar has launched the Government’s fourth Road Safety Strategy today at the Road Transport Safety Conference on Serious Injuries.

The Strategy – ‘Closing the Gap’ – will run until 2020 and aims to make Ireland one of the safest countries in terms of road deaths in the EU. It will also focus on new measures to reduce the number and severity of serious injuries arising from road collisions.

The new Strategy sets a specific target for 2020 to reduce the number of road deaths to 124 a year (from 162 in 2012) and serious injuries to 330 per year (from 485 in 2012). This drop is necessary to close the gap between Ireland and other best performing countries such as the UK, Netherlands, Sweden and Australia.

Speaking at the conference, which is being organised by the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) as part of the European Presidency, Minister Varadkar said: ‘This is a significant day for road safety as we launch the new Government Road Safety Strategy. Ireland has made huge advances, and was the fifth safest country in the EU in 2011. Ireland outperformed the EU average in reducing road fatalities by 12% in 2012. The RSA is responsible for the overall implementation of the Strategy and will report to me annually on implementation. Together we now want to make Ireland one of the safest countries in the EU in terms of road deaths, if not the world’.

“However, I am very concerned about the number of road fatalities since the beginning of this year. It is a stark reminder to us all that we cannot become complacent where road safety is concerned. The fatalities have increased on the same period in 2012 and, while it is too early in the year to try to identify patterns, it does serve to demonstrate that we must continue to be vigilant when using the roads. We must step up our good behaviour as drivers, continue enforcement and keeping educating drivers and reminding the public of their responsibilities as road users and the human cost of road traffic collisions. I want to take this opportunity again to appeal to all road users to redouble their efforts in road safety. Any progress made over the last decade can be erased very quickly,” Minister Varadkar said.

The new Strategy will be based on a Safe Systems approach to road safety – an OECD standard which aims to minimise road accidents in terms of fatalities or injury. The Strategy includes 144 specific actions to reduce road fatalities and the State body responsible for implementing each of the actions will be identified.

There will be a particular focus on areas of low compliance and vulnerable road users, along with a greater focus on education and public awareness. Enforcement will continue to target speeding, alcohol and drugs, helmets, belts, and mobiles.

Key measures include:
·         Rehabilitative/driving awareness courses for repeat offenders will be considered, along with the feasibility of alcolocks to immobilise vehicles;
·         Consideration will be given to extending the safety camera network to offences other than speeding;
·         Measures to combat car clocking will be considered;
·         Employers will be encouraged to implement a handbrake lock for phone use by professional drivers;
·         In-vehicle devices which sense tiredness will be encouraged;
·         Regular audits of road markings, safety blackspots and signage will be recommended;
·         Fixed charge notices for cyclists will be considered;
·         The RSA will have more frequent access to PULSE data in order to spot trends;
·         At least five new service areas on motorways will be built to combat tiredness;
·         Legislation will be tightened to prevent the reintroduction of written-off vehicles;
·         Breakdown kits for cars will be made compulsory;
·         Rectification notices will be applied to common minor faults.

Overall, the new Strategy sets out to reduce road deaths in Ireland to 25 per million population or fewer (124 road deaths per year) and to reduce serious injuries to 61 per million population or fewer (330 per year) by 2020.

At today’s conference, over 300 delegates heard from international, EU and national experts on the topic of serious injuries from a research, medical and enforcement perspective. Delegates also heard from road collision survivor Siobhán O’Brien who suffered serious, life-changing injuries following a collision in 2001.

Mr Siim Kallas, Vice President of the European Commission performed the opening address at the conference and referenced the need to focus on serious injuries:

“2012 saw the lowest ever number of people killed in road traffic in the EU. This is a hugely encouraging result. However, it is now time to focus also on the serious road traffic injuries. Major progress was recently made when a common EU definition of serious road traffic injury was identified; I expect Member States to be able to report data for 2014 on the basis of this new definition. With comparable and reliable statistics, the EU can design more effective measures to reduce the number of serious injury collisions,” said Mr Kallas.

Mr Gay Byrne, Chairman, Road Safety Authority (RSA) said: “One of the most successful aspects of the last Government Road Safety Strategy was the marked change in public attitudes towards road safety, brought about by the coordinated efforts of road safety stakeholders. If we apply this new strategy with as much spirit and stamina as we have brought to bear over the past few years, the benefits for our island will be far-reaching.”

“It is not just the road-builders, the educators, the enforcers, and all of the other specialists who shoulder the responsibility for making our roads safer each day. It is every man, woman and child on every highway and byway, on four wheels, on two wheels, on 16 wheels, on foot. Yes, this Strategy is ambitious and it will require a significant, coordinated and consistent effort by Government, stakeholders and the public. But it is no less than we deserve,” said Mr Byrne.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, An Garda Síochána said: “Over the period of the last Government Road Safety Strategy, the people of Ireland have shown what can be achieved when a concerted effort is made to improve their behaviour on the roads. Enforcement of road traffic laws will continue to play a critical role in the new Strategy as An Garda Síochána seeks to ensure that fewer lives are lost and serious injuries sustained as a result of preventable tragedies.”

Among the speakers at today’s conference was Mr Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of the European Transport Safety Council, who presented data on serious injuries in the EU as part of his presentation, ‘Getting Serious about Injuries’. Speaking at the conference, Mr Avenoso said:

“Road deaths represent only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of traffic collisions. For every road death in the EU, at least 50 road injuries are recorded, of which 10 are categorised as serious. Yet, EU comparisons are hampered because both the levels of injury reporting and national definitions of a serious injury vary greatly among countries.”

The ‘Safe Systems’ approach was developed in the Netherlands in the 1990s and has since been applied in best practice countries such as Sweden, Norway and Australia. The Safe Systems approach to road safety builds on existing road safety interventions by adopting a holistic approach to reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads. The approach focuses on road safety as a responsibility shared and managed by everyone, from national and local Government, private business and the road-users, working together at every level – national, regional, local and community – to develop effective and innovative road safety initiatives and interventions.

The Government’s Road Safety Strategy is available to view and download from