Review of Ireland’s Road Safety Strategy

Wegman, F.
For about thirty years now, the annual number of road deaths in Ireland has decreased. However, towards the end of the 1990s the annual number was judged to be too high. Moreover, it was established that Ireland was in the middle bracket when compared with other member states of the European Union. In order to reduce this number further, a strategy was developed (Government Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002) and this strategy has been implemented during the last few years. For the coming period, the Irish government is considering drawing up a new strategy and implementing its proposed actions. This strategy is meant to lead to a further reduction of road accidents. Seen from this perspective, SWOV has been requested to carry out a review of Ireland’s Road Safety Strategy. This review should pay attention to three aspects: 1. review developments and progress made under the current National Road Safety Strategy 1998-2002; 2. place Ireland’s performance in an appropriate international context; 3. suggest options for priorities for the next Strategy to cover period 2003-2007, paying regard to recent developments (including relevant international developments). The target of the National Road Safety Strategy was a reduction in the annual number of deaths of 20%, from 472 in 1997 to 378 in 2002. It is likely that the target in relation to deaths will not be achieved. The target for the number of injuries (also a reduction of 20%) has already been achieved. The Government Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002 is to be regarded as a large step forward in Irish road safety policy. The following elements of the Strategy are regarded as being positive: a) the formulation of a national target, b) the definition of a limited number of well-founded spearheads, c) the policy co-ordination at the national level in the shape of a High-Level Group on Road Safety, d) the publication of an annual progress report. Judged by the policy results it must be concluded that the Irish ambitions have not completely been achieved. A certainly successful area of policy is formed by the achievements of the NRA, because they have really met their pledges. The publicity activities of the NSC are also carried out well (large awareness and influence on the attitudes of the Irish). Less successful are the other main areas for special attention (speeding, drink-driving, and seat belt wearing). This is not so much a question of too ambitious targets, but of not implementing the intended policy. It is possible that having to adjust the speeding target over the past years, and not achieving the drink-driving and seat belt targets, damaged the credibility of the policy, and it could put the actors responsible in a vulnerable position. The Irish road safety policy strongly relies on positive effects of traffic enforcement and (strict) punishment of offenders. It also strongly relies on public information: more than 70% of the casualty reduction targeted should be reached here. The implementation of the policy in this area is, at the most, to be characterised as a first step, and the expectations here have not fully been met. Various points of further improvement have surfaced which could be used in order to continue along the chosen road for the 1998-2002 period. First of all, the national target may be transformed in a realistic way to ‘supporting targets’ (also known as performance indicators): from road safety targets to targeted road safety programmes. A further recommendation is that it is necessary to make efforts in Ireland to monitor the policy carried out, in order to bring it to a higher level. During the past period, the implementation of the policy lagged behind its own ambitions for a number of reasons. In this period there were evidently not enough possibilities for implementation. To make improvements, agreements will have to be made so that intended policy is really carried out. Such agreements should be included in the coming policy programme so as to create possibilities for pledges to be met. If we look at the emphases in policy carried out during the Strategy lifetime, it can be concluded that there are still considerable improvement possibilities in relation to existing areas for special attention. This means that the present level of police enforcement should increase considerably. This level is modest in comparison with several other countries, and it is not to be expected that marginal increases will lead to behavioural changes of Irish road users. Gaining public support, especially through the mass media, will have to create a sound base for considerably higher enforcement levels. Although the NRA has performed extremely well in the 1998-2002 programme it may be wise to examine whether the contribution of infrastructural improvements could be intensified. On the one hand this means examining whether ‘more safety’ can be achieved with the existing budgets and, on the other hand, it means reserving a larger part of the investment budget for road safety. The National Strategy has shown many possibilities of further improving road safety. However, one is also very conscious of the potential obstacles to further improvement. Ireland has started down the right road, and this road has been explored here and there, but not all opportunities are fully exploited. In the next Strategy large steps forward can be made!
Report number
58 + 4
SWOV, Leidschendam

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