It has been a disappointing year for road safety with an increase of nine in the number of people killed on the State’s roads, despite significantly reduced traffic volumes due to Covid-19.
However while the increase in road deaths amounted to 6 per cent, there were 1,407 fewer serious and minor injury collisions recorded, a 25per cent decrease compared with 2019.
According to provisional figures from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) an increase in passenger, pedestrian and cyclist deaths in 2020 contributed to the 149 deaths recorded between January 1st and 5pm on December 31st.
Minister of State for Transport Hildegarde Naughton said it was “a disappointing year for road safety”, but pointed to the development of a new Government Road Safety Strategy to be published, which would initiate efforts to reach zero road deaths by 2050.
A record low of 139 lives lost to road crashes was recorded in 2018.
While Ms Naughton acknowledged “a significant reduction in the number of serious and minor injury crashes”, she said the increase in deaths was “ despite a reduction in traffic volumes for periods during the year due to the pandemic”.
She said “all deaths on our roads are preventable”.
The EU said it still expects a reduction in EU road fatalities due to travel restrictions associated with the pandemic. But it said the goal of halving the number of road deaths across the Union between 2010 and 2020 will not be met.
Assistant Garda Commissioner Paula Hilman said previous travel restrictions in the Republic had seen evidence of poor driver behaviour, particularly increases in speeding and drug driving. “These will be of particular focus during 2021,” she said.
Sam Waide, chief executive of the RSA said the increase in fatalities was “a stark reminder of the need for extraordinary interventions in the next Government Road Safety Strategy, if we are to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in fatalities over the next decade.”
He said the rise in the number of passenger deaths was “particularly worrying”. Mr Waide also said “we do know from past research that non wearing of a seatbelt can be a factor”.
He said there was “a changed environment” on the roads with a rise in the number of people walking and cycling because of the pandemic. “A continued emphasis on social distancing in 2021, will mean that we will need to share the road carefully “ he said.
Liz O’Donnell, chairwoman of the RSA said between 2013 and 2019, Ireland saw a 26 per cent reduction in road traffic fatalities, compared with just a 6 per cent reduction across the whole of the EU 27.
“Thanks to the success of the current road safety strategy (2013 – 2020) and the compliance of road users Ireland is viewed as a leader in road safety and is ranked as second safest in the EU and fourth globally. It is important to acknowledge that many lives have been saved and the next strategy now being prepared will build on this progress.”