Northern Ireland has had a proud road safety record this decade – per capita, it has had the lowest fatality rate in the world. However, that has changed this year. Already there have been as many fatalities by mid-August in 2014 as there have been in the entirety of other years.
It is foolish to race to too many conclusions based on one year’s figures. However, it remains the case that we are losing focus. For example, I have no objection to a 20mph limit in Belfast City Centre, but this is unlikely to save a single life – it is an extreme rarity for anyone to be killed on a city centre road. On the other hand, I have long advocated a reduction in the single carriageway secondary road limit, because it is on that type of road where a hugely disproportionate number of casualties takes place – yet no one seems to mention this.
Wesley Johnston is the expert here, but a few other points from this year’s comparatively poor record do stand out:
– proportionately, an unbelievable share of fatalities this year are male (thus far over 90%);
– a significantly disproportionate share of fatalities and casualties for some time now have been cyclists or motorcyclists;
– a significant cause of the dramatic rise in fatalities this year has been head-on collisions (sometimes, sadly, accounting for multiple fatalities in a single incident).
The first of these was already being looked at, because it was long the case that males were likelier to be killed on our roads than females. However, this year that has been particularly marked. We do need to target more of our road safety education to take account of this.
The second of these has been taken more seriously in Great Britain – for example through its ‘THINK!’ advertising. It is my impression that drivers consider other vehicles but do not pay proper attention to the likelihood of cyclists or motorcyclists being nearby (not that this is entirely car drivers’ fault either, by the way). Also, the “engineering” aspect of road safety needs consideration – where possible, for example, cycle lanes should be separated from the road, not just random add-ons with markings.
The third of these I have long been concerned about. I was struck many years ago by adverts in farmers’ fields in Germany which showed a car pulling out to pass another car approaching a slight bend, with the simple words “Ihr letzter Fehler?” (“Your final mistake?“) underneath – a very effective message.
We have – as a society, to be clear – come a long way on road safety in the past few years and one bad year does not remove all those advances. However, I cannot help but think we are losing focus (through campaigns such as the 20mph one), and not looking at the things which are really seeing people killed and injured.
When it comes to road safety, we cannot afford to miss the things which matter, because they cost lives. It’s time for a re-think in our education, our advertising and our emphasis.