A New Scapegoat for Road Deaths

The recent high number of deaths on our roads resulted in a call for Gay Byrne, Chairman of the Road Safety Authority, to resign his post.  This is scapegoating; Gay Byrne is not responsible for the spate of fatalities and calling for his head is not going to help us one bit down the road of understanding and resolving the sad carnage on our roads.  Ultimately, responsibility comes down to the individual person.  However, Gay Byrne did not do himself any favours by stating that he did not know what more could be done to stop the fatalities.  This statement does beg the question: what is he doing as Chairman of the Road Safety Authority if he believes nothing more can be done?  Gay Byrne declared that the main reason for the enduring high death rate on Irish roads is that people still hadn’t got the message about speeding, drink-driving and wearing seat-belts.  But, Gay, if that is the case, surely then there is more work to be done to get these messages across to people.  It appears to me that the majority of people have got the messages he refers to, but the minority who haven’t may need quite a different approach.  I am wondering has there been any in-depth interviews with the survivors of automobile accidents that may give us some clue as to why a certain proportion of our population either do not value their own lives or the lives of others or both?  Is there a profile that could be gleaned from these interviews of a driver who is a risk to self and to others?’  Car passengers need to be informed of the risks of sitting into a car with a certain driver.

 I’m wondering would Gay Byrne consider gathering such information, rather than throwing his hands up in the air and saying ‘nothing more can be done.

In fact, there are many questions that need answering and I have no doubt much of the information is there but not being put to good use.  For example:

Are road casualties –            

  • gender related?
  • age related?
  • speed related
  • road quality related?
  • road category related?
  • time related?
  • alcohol related?
  • stress related?
  • drug related?
  • tiredness related?
  • personality related?
  • blackspot related?
  • speed limit related?
  • seat belt related?
  • driver error related?
  • car safety related?

Martin Cullen, the Transport Minister, who has also been called upon to resign, claims that 86 percent of road deaths are due to driver error.  I would like to know how he arrived at this figure?   It is vital that actions taken to reduce road deaths rest on soundly researched and gathered data, not heresay.  And if what he says is true, then surely the training of drivers needs to be more closely looked at.

Answers to the above listed questions should provide a solid basis for action.  For example, if road deaths are licence related, then there is an urgency to have the 400,000 provisional drivers tested for full licence.  Similarly, if a percentage of accidents occur in A or B category roads, then there is a necessity to review the speed limits set for these roads.  It makes no sense to me that you can drive at 100 kilometres per hour on a narrow country road or a windy A or B road!  It is both Government and Local Authority neglect to not review speed limits in the face of what is now being termed as a national emergency very much akin to the young male suicide crisis.

None of us, least of all, Gay Byrne, can afford to sit back and say nothing more can be done.  This is a defeatist attitude and one that certainly would not have managed against all the odds to bring in the smoking ban.  Public outcry, public outrage, public responsibility, public reporting of dangerous drivers and a public voiced conviction that dangerous driving will not be tolerated needs to be generated.  Public means the collective of individuals, and it is up to each of us, not just Gay Byrne and Martin Cullen, to make each of our voices heard and for each of us to take action when needed.  A deeply held belief needs to be developed among us all that human life is precious and deserves safety on all our roads.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of Whose Life Are You Living?