Check against delivery
I am delighted to be here today to accept, jointly with Estonia, the 2010 Road Safety PIN Award on Ireland's behalf. It is good to receive recognition for the reduction in road fatalities in Ireland from a body held in high esteem in Europe.
Road Safety is a key priority for the Irish Government and this commitment is underpinned by the third Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012. Since the launch of the Strategy in 2007, I have worked closely with the Road Safety Authority and all of the other implementing bodies to ensure that all elements of it will be delivered. All involved can be rightly proud of their contribution to making our roads safer over the past few years.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal gratitude to An Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority for their work and commitment over the years.
The Road Safety Authority is a statutory organisation created by the Road Safety Authority Act 2006. It was established on 13 September 2006 with a core focus on developing, implementing and evaluating Ireland's Road Safety Strategy.
It is no exaggeration to say that many people are alive today that would not be with us if it were not for the various measures put in place by the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána and their absolute commitment to the objective of "Working to Save Lives". We must now avoid the pitfall of complacency at a political and road user level.
Over recent years, through the adoption of Road Safety Strategies, we have been able to identify and link measures that reinforce the advancement of the safety message. The current Strategy was the subject of a wide-ranging consultation process, not only with the public at large, but also with the key stakeholders. The outcome of that process is reflected in specific actions, which are being delivered cooperatively by the designated organisations.
Of course, the key determinant of road safety performance is the behaviour of road users and the primary focus of any strategy is positively to influence that behaviour. In Ireland, we are aiming to achieve this change by implementing initiatives across a range of areas.
The enactment and enforcement of laws is central to this approach and these laws are underpinned and supported by the application of penalties such as fines, prison sentences and driving disqualifications as well as key technological resources.
The core objective of the current Strategy is to reduce road deaths to no greater than 60 fatalities per million population by the end of 2012. This is an average of 21 road deaths per month or 252 deaths per annum. In 2009, we saw the lowest number of road deaths on Irish roads on record at 241. This means that we have reached our core objective well before its target date.
For those of us involved, however, rather than regarding this as an achievement, we should see it as a challenge. We must now, collectively, do all in our power to ensure that the 2012 target figure continues to be met this year and in future years. The strategy appears to be working, however. Road deaths have dropped by 41.6% between the period 1999 to 2009.
We should never lose sight of the reasons why we continue to invest our time, energy and money into road safety.
We want to reduce needless suffering on families across the country and it is this objective that really underpins our own road safety strategies. The current Strategy is challenging and ambitious and has been designed to continue on the good work of previous strategies but also aims to build on progress by introducing new initiatives.
I would like to pay tribute to road users in Ireland for the manner in which they have embraced road safety and taken personal responsibility for their own behaviour on our roads. While we have made considerable progress in recent years, I want to take this opportunity to implore everyone, whether on a personal or professional basis, to work together and redouble all efforts with a view to making this our safest year yet.
One of the most important measures in reducing road fatalities in Ireland was the introduction of Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT) in 2006 and tougher penalties for drink driving offences in 2007. To enforce this new legislation the number of the Traffic Corps police officers has increased from 500 to 1,200 since 2004.
The new legislation has been the subject of educational campaigns.
The Irish Government is committed to lowering the maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit. I presented a Bill to the Irish Parliament to reduce the legal BAC limit from 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 20 milligrammes for learner, novice and professional drivers, and from 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrammes for other drivers. This initiative will bring us into line with the practice in most other EU Member States.
The Road Traffic Bill also introduces mandatory alcohol testing of drivers involved in collisions. The Bill is currently being discussed in the Irish Parliament
One of the core targets identified in the current Road Safety Strategy is to implement a Safety Camera Network with in the region of 6,000 hours enforcement per month.
In November last, the Department of Justice and Law Reform and An Garda Síochána signed a contract with a private operator, GoSafe, for the provision and operation of a network of safety cameras to detect speeding drivers. The safety cameras will be operational from October this year.
The private operator will focus enforcement on collision-prone zones which have a history of speed related death and injury. These zones have been identified by the RSA and An Garda Síochána by analysing road crash data.
It is important to note that the operator will be paid on the basis of the number of hours spent enforcing speed limits and not on the basis of detections. This is about saving lives and preventing injuries, not about catching people.
The responsibility for the safety camera network lies with the Garda Office. RSA research revealed that speeding was directly responsible for 80 deaths on Irish roads in 2009. It is also a factor in the remaining 160 deaths, 1,000 serious injuries and anything up to 7,000 minor injuries.
Reducing speed by just 5% could save almost 50 lives and prevent up to 100 serious injuries on Irish roads every year.
Infrastructural measures to make Irish roads safer are a key component of the current Government Road Safety Strategy. Approximately €18.4 billion has been spent on our roads in the last decade (2001-2010). As part of this investment, a total of €15 million has also been provided this year towards road safety measures under the National Road Programme. Such persistent investment has played a major role in reducing the deaths and injuries on our roads in recent years, particularly the development of our motorway infrastructure. The Major-Inter Urban Roads Programme linking Dublin with all other cities and with the Border with Northern Ireland will be completed by the end of this year and we expect that the new, improved roads system will continue to support our safety objectives for many years to come.
In conclusion, I would like once again to thank the ETSC for presenting this joint Award to Ireland in recognition of the outstanding progress being made in Ireland in road safety and in reducing fatalities on its roads.