Check against delivery
I am delighted to be here at European House today for the presentation of the European Road Safety Charter. I am especially pleased to have the opportunity to publicly show my support for those Irish organisations and companies who are with us today and volunteering to be part of this Charter.
By signing this Charter each group is demonstrating that they understand the significance of safety on our roads not simply as a means of safeguarding their own commercial interests but also for the benefits it provides for the health and wellbeing of their employees. Each group is also demonstrating that they take great pride in the contribution that they make to the wider community.
The Charter had its first official launch in Dublin Castle back in April 2004. Six years have passed but it is reassuring to see that support for the Charter is as strong as ever.
Some very prominent Irish organisations and companies are signing here today. The numbers taking part is testament to the fact that we can achieve real success if we work together. This concept of shared responsibility for road safety is central to all good road safety programmes and underpins the wider European Road Safety Action Programme.
Ireland has reflected this direction by taking a multi-agency approach to implementing policy. This approach, which can be traced back to the launch of the country’s first Road Safety Strategy in 1998, asserted the need for co-ordinating actions across a range of disciplines and sectors. Had we not taken this route 10 years ago, it was estimated, that road deaths would have reached some 550 in 2002 and a much higher annual figure by now. However, the approach we have taken since 1998 has borne significant results.
In the year that we published that first Road Safety Strategy, 472 people died in collisions. In 2004, when the European Road Safety Charter was first launched, the numbers killed had fallen to 374. In contrast, last year was the safest year on record with fatalities dropping further to 241. That is a decline of almost 49% in the period from 1998. We are improving year-on-year with the downward trend continuing into 2010.
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 Road Safety Strategy covering the period 2007 to 2012 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.
All of these initiatives are being channelled toward a common purpose; that of reducing the number of people being killed on our roads. As such, 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.
We achieved the core objective in 2009, with the lowest number of road deaths on record at 241 and we must take all necessary steps to ensure that we remain within the targeted 252 figure for the coming years. So far this year, 75 people have lost their lives on our roads, 25 fewer than this day last year but still we cannot forget that there are 75 families and many, many more friends and colleagues without their loved ones today.
The progress we have made was reflected in a report published by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) in June 2009, which ranked Ireland 6th safest country in the EU. The report was based on road safety data for 2007. It is anticipated that we will achieve even better results when the updated statistics for the following year are taken into account. This downward trend in road deaths is really positive but the stories behind the statistics are not.
We must 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.
One such initiative is the reduction of the legal driver blood alcohol concentrations (BAC). This will be delivered through the enactment of the Road Traffic Bill 2009, which is currently going through the Oireachtas. The Bill provides for the lowering of the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) 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.
We all know that alcohol affects driver capacity in a variety of ways. A recent European Transport Safety Council report ‘Drink Driving in Commercial Transport’ referred to the fact that ‘driving whilst under the influence of alcohol contributes annually to 10,000 deaths on EU roads’. By reducing the BAC, we hope to reduce driver error, the risk of involvement in collisions, the level of driver impairment, deaths and serious injuries and, of course, cost to the State.
The 2009 Road Traffic Bill, which is bringing into effect the lower BAC, is the sixth major legislative initiative on traffic law in the past decade in Ireland.
These laws have brought about the introduction of a penalty points system, a new structure of speed limits based on metric values, the introduction of checkpoints for Mandatory Alcohol Testing, the establishment of the Road Safety Authority in 2006 and most recently, the introduction of the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between this country and the UK in January of this year.
The momentum created through the legislative process was a key element in bringing about a cultural shift in our approach to motoring as well as the development of a best practice ideology around driving and the maintenance and standards of vehicles generally.
In fact, the legislation provided us with the means to react appropriately to changes in road usage also. We observed significant increases in vehicle volume over the past decade with nearly 2.5 million registered vehicles in Ireland by end 2008. This was a 74% increase on 1997.
This user demand intensified the requirement for modern, efficient infrastructure and we recognised the need for high-level investment in our national, regional and local roads network. As a result, 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.
Greater road usage has also encouraged the development of more robust standards for vehicles as well as the technology to support better enforcement. Such change necessitated the establishment of a dedicated Garda National Traffic Corps as well as the establishment of the Road Safety Authority. All of these elements have merged to create a better road safety environment and have had a profoundly positive effect on transmitting the desired road safety message.
This message has also been informed by road safety ideas and practices from across Europe. The RSA, in particular, is guided by and contributes to many road safety projects and forums in the EU. Such cooperation is vital and has a key role in informing the preparation of our own Road Safety Strategies.
In a broader strategic context, the third European Road Safety Action Programme 2003 - 2010 pursued an ambitious and very specific overall objective of halving the number of people killed on the roads by 2010 compared to 2001. This equates to cutting the number of deaths to 53 per million people.
However, and despite the great progress being made by many countries, the EU as a whole will unfortunately fail to reach its target under the Action Programme of a 25,000 deaths limit for 2010. In 2008, some 39,000 people were killed in road traffic collisions in the European Union.
While this is a very stark statistic, it is nevertheless an improvement on 2001 when 54,400 people were killed and we can look forward with hope to the publication of the fourth European Road Safety Action Programme, which is expected to come into action in 2011.
The reduction in road fatalities in this country, particularly since 2007, is testament to the commitment and determination of the key stakeholders involved in road safety. That downward trend also demonstrates the willingness of people to adapt to new ways of thinking and behaving for the better good of the greater community. And 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.
Indeed, the European Road Safety Charter is a very good example of how different people and organisations with entirely different objectives can be unified toward achieving a common goal. Road safety is an issue that transcends the political. It is, first and foremost, an issue of social concern.
The organisations and companies signing today, especially those who are renewing their commitment, must be commended for their solidarity on this issue.
Our roads, without question, are becoming safer for all users and fewer people are dying on them but lives lost can never be celebrated. It is still unacceptable that so many people should be killed this way. It is incumbent upon us all to ensure that, despite the significant gains in recent years, complacency does not set in. There still remains a big job ahead of us all but to reiterate, if we work together, like today, I am confident that we will make a difference.