Ireland Stands as a Beacon of Progress In Road Safety

Andrea Andres looks at how Ireland is becoming a leading figure on road safety.

The European Union has set itself a goal: halve the number of road deaths compared to 2010. They have made some progress, but not as much as they hoped. Their goal is a missed target. Since 2010, the EU collectively reduced road deaths by 20.7%, but a reduction of 6.7% between 2010 and 2020 was needed to reach its goal. To achieve their aim, the EU has to somehow reduce road deaths by 20.6% between 2019 and 2020. That would be an impossible feat. Between 2017 and 2018, the EU only managed to reduce road mortality by 1%. Moreover, many European countries have stagnated in their progress in road safety. But Ireland shines as a beacon of progress and as Antonio Avenso, the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) Executive Director puts it, “a model for the European Union” to emulate. 

Speaking to RSA’s communications manager Brian Farrell, Ireland is “up there at the top performing countries for road safety” for two reasons: first they “record all the collisions that take place and what caused them and then try to reduce the factors that might have caused them”. Secondly, they “prioritize educating people to stay away from these factors and clamp down on them. For example, if you’re sleepy, drink coffee and nap.” 

The efforts of the RSA have paid off in dividends. Ireland’s sustained progress can be traced in its movement through the ETSC’s Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) rankings. In the space of eight years, Ireland had managed to move up five places through the PIN rankings. In 2010, Ireland entered the rankings at seventh place in terms of road deaths per million population with 47 road deaths. By 2016, Ireland was ranked fifth safest country in terms of road safety. By 2017, Ireland was ranked fourth safest country for road deaths. Finally, by 2018, Ireland was ranked second (behind the UK) and experienced its lowest level of fatalities at 30 road deaths per million inhabitants (142 road deaths altogether) compared to the EU average of 49 road deaths per million inhabitants according to the 13th Annual Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) by the ETSC. Ever since 2010, Ireland managed to cut road fatalities to 30% according to figures by the RSA. Between 2017 and 2018, Ireland decreased its road deaths by 6%. 

Despite Ireland’s huge gains, the RSA still has to reach an ambitious target. The RSA hopes to reduce the annual toll of road fatalities to 124. According to Mr. Farrell, this particular number was chosen because “the international best ranking, safest countries in the world were what we call the “SUNflower Countries”- Sweden, UK, and the Netherlands and their deaths per million population would equate to 124 deaths annually . . . or 25 deaths per million inhabitants. So, that’s what we set our target on.” It also set a provisional target of reducing the number of serious injuries by 30%, from 472 in 2011 to fewer than 330 in 2020 or 61 per million population. 

Ireland’s progress in road safety has been remarkable as other EU member states stand still in their progress or even disimprove. Sweden, one of the SUNflower countries, had an alarming 28% rise in road deaths between 2017 and 2018. Over the period of 2010 and 2018, Sweden had a large overall increase in road deaths of 21.8%. The Netherlands also had a rise in road mortality between 2010 and 2018 at 5.9%. In 2017-2018, the Netherlands had a growth in road deaths at 10%. The UK, despite being first in terms of road safety performance with only 27.5 deaths per million population for 2018 and one of the best safest countries for road safety, barely improved with a 1% decrease in their road deaths. The UK has also been the slowest to reduce road deaths between 2010 and 2018 with only a progress of 4.2%. 

Even though the number of fatalities have risen in 2019 to 147 fatalities, Ireland’s efforts have been duly recognized by the ETSC. Ireland was awarded the prestigious European Transport Safety Council Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) award last year. Avenoso praised Ireland: “What stands out is the strategic approach: analysing the data, setting targets, and making sure the job gets done.  If every country in Europe could get to the same level of safety as Ireland, we could cut road deaths by 40%.” But he also acknowledged that Ireland still has some issues to work on such as cyclist safety.

It seems unthinkable that Ireland had a peak number of road mortality of 640 deaths. But 

Ireland has made great strides in improving road safety over the last few decades. The RSA is still very much “focused” on reducing the annual toll to 124 deaths. But it faces many challenges as it sets a new road safety strategy for 2021 to 2030 such as drug driving and pedestrian safety. But for now, Ireland stands tall in its betterment for road safety.