Ireland Has Reduced Road Deaths By 31% - Here's How

The European Union has set itself a goal of reaching zero fatalities on its roads by 2050, something that could be made possible with new automation features. While progress so far is limited, one country has been outperforming the rest - Ireland.

Last week the European Transport Safety Council awarded Ireland a road safety prize for its rapid improvement, noting that road deaths have decreased by 31% since 2010. The most rapid fall has been recent, with a reduction of 6% between 2017 and 2018.

The ETSC has been publishing these road safety rankings for EU member states since 2010. With 30 deaths per million inhabitants in 2018, Ireland is still only in second place in the EU for road safety overall, beat out by the U.K. which had 27.5 deaths per million last year. But the U.K., which has consistently had among the best road safety records in Europe, is now falling behind. It had among the slowest progress in reducing road deaths from 2010 to 2018, with a reduction of just 4% despite new technologies such as automatic breaking coming onto the market.

Two non-EU countries, Switzerland and Norway, have the best record on road safety in Europe overall. But they are also seeing road fatality reduction stagnate.

Source: ETSC

In 2010, Ireland was seventh in the EU for road safety, with 47 road deaths per million inhabitants at the time.

Speaking at an event in Brussels to discuss this year's ranking report, Irish Transport Minister Shane Ross said the fact that his country has seen the biggest reduction in Europe over the past eight years is due to new legislation introduced by the last several governments.

"Ireland had a review, and we decided to take a back-to-basics approach," he said. "We looked at the four main causes: speed, intoxicated driving, mobile phone use, and non-wearing of seatbelts."

The country lowered the threshold for illegal drunk driving in 2017 and introduced preliminary roadside testing. They also rolled out advertising campaigns specifically targeting vulnerable road users. Most controversially, they introduced "morning-after" roadside tests to find levels of intoxication unsafe to drive at even after a person has tried to sleep it off.

"The numbers  of people on the road is obviously rising, so those countries who are getting proportional figures down are achieving something against gravity," he said. He also credited the motivational factor of the EU paying increasing efforts to this issue in recent years under Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.  "I’ve been very surprised and very happy about the fact that Commissioner Bulc has been willing to give so much time in those Council meetings, where time is very short, to road safety."

Bulc will be stepping down in the autumn as a new college of 28 EU commissioners takes office, and there is unease in the transport safety community over whether the next transport commissioner will take the issue as seriously as Bulc has.

Ross announced at the event that Ireland plans to introduce new "graduated" speeding penalties in the Autumn, in which penalties will go up the faster a person is going.

The ETSC credits Ireland's National Road Safety Strategy for 2013-2020 with being behind the progress. That strategy contained 144 measures and a required midterm evaluation.

“What stands out is the strategic approach: analysing the data, setting targets, and making sure the job gets done," said ETSC Executive Director Antonio Avenoso. "If every country in Europe could get to the same level of safety as Ireland, we could cut road deaths by 40%. As it is, many countries are standing still and even going backwards."

Missed 2020 target

Ireland's progress stands in contrast to relative stagnation in the EU as a whole. The number of people killed on the EU's roads last year was just 1% down from the previous year, and 4% down over the last five years. It now seems clear that an earlier EU target of cutting road deaths in half by 2020 will not be reached. It would require an unprecedented 21% reduction per year in 2019 and 2020.

The ETSC says that in many EU countries national road safety measures such as traffic police enforcement and safer infrastructure have been cut in recent years. At EU level, an update to minimum safety standards for new vehicles faced a delay of several years and was only passed this year. Those measures will take several years to have an effect, as the vehicle fleet on the roads is updated. The Commission is expected to come out with a new Road Safety Policy Framework for the period 2021-2030 in the coming months.

Commissioner Bulc, who also spoke at the event, focused her remarks on the potential of new technologies to save lives. "The vision is clear: it’s not only to change the mindset of people," she said. "We are very interesting creatures. We get distracted easily. We have so many interests. There is no way that just through human behaviour we can address these challenges."

"I have big hopes to continue to develop safe systems to bring on board new technologies," she said. Bulc is fighting for a new technology to be introduced in Europe that would make cars able to communicate with the smartphones being carried by nearby pedestrians and cyclists, using wifi. In this system, the car would automatically stop if it detects a smartphone suddenly crossing the street in front of it.

However the proposal is being held up by national EU governments, some of whom want the system to use the new 5G signals now being developed by private companies, instead of wifi. Bulc says that if the EU waits for 5G to be commonplace, it will mean too much of a delay to a technology already available today.

"Safety cannot be for sale, it cannot be a commercialised service," she said. "If tomorrow 5G is ready, we will open the way. But let’s deliver by the end of this year, please council adopt this, today not in five or 10 years."

Other new technologies now becoming available include Intelligent Speed Assistance, in which a car can automatically detect the speed limit on a road and it will stop accelerating after that limit has been reached. The EU passed a law earlier this year requiring the system on all new vehicles - but drivers will have the ability to disable it. ETSC says this ability to block the system will mean less lives are saved than if it was not overridable.

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The European Union has set itself a goal of reaching zero fatalities on its roads by 2050, something that could be made possible with new automation features. While progress so far is limited, one country has been outperforming the rest - Ireland.

Last week the European Transport Safety Council awarded Ireland a road safety prize for its rapid improvement, noting that road deaths have decreased by 31% since 2010. The most rapid fall has been recent, with a reduction of 6% between 2017 and 2018.

The ETSC has been publishing these road safety rankings for EU member states since 2010. With 30 deaths per million inhabitants in 2018, Ireland is still only in second place in the EU for road safety overall, beat out by the U.K. which had 27.5 deaths per million last year. But the U.K., which has consistently had among the best road safety records in Europe, is now falling behind. It had among the slowest progress in reducing road deaths from 2010 to 2018, with a reduction of just 4% despite new technologies such as automatic breaking coming onto the market.

Two non-EU countries, Switzerland and Norway, have the best record on road safety in Europe overall. But they are also seeing road fatality reduction stagnate.

Source: ETSC

In 2010, Ireland was seventh in the EU for road safety, with 47 road deaths per million inhabitants at the time.

Speaking at an event in Brussels to discuss this year's ranking report, Irish Transport Minister Shane Ross said the fact that his country has seen the biggest reduction in Europe over the past eight years is due to new legislation introduced by the last several governments.

"Ireland had a review, and we decided to take a back-to-basics approach," he said. "We looked at the four main causes: speed, intoxicated driving, mobile phone use, and non-wearing of seatbelts."

The country lowered the threshold for illegal drunk driving in 2017 and introduced preliminary roadside testing. They also rolled out advertising campaigns specifically targeting vulnerable road users. Most controversially, they introduced "morning-after" roadside tests to find levels of intoxication unsafe to drive at even after a person has tried to sleep it off.

"The numbers  of people on the road is obviously rising, so those countries who are getting proportional figures down are achieving something against gravity," he said. He also credited the motivational factor of the EU paying increasing efforts to this issue in recent years under Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.  "I’ve been very surprised and very happy about the fact that Commissioner Bulc has been willing to give so much time in those Council meetings, where time is very short, to road safety."

Bulc will be stepping down in the autumn as a new college of 28 EU commissioners takes office, and there is unease in the transport safety community over whether the next transport commissioner will take the issue as seriously as Bulc has.

Ross announced at the event that Ireland plans to introduce new "graduated" speeding penalties in the Autumn, in which penalties will go up the faster a person is going.

The ETSC credits Ireland's National Road Safety Strategy for 2013-2020 with being behind the progress. That strategy contained 144 measures and a required midterm evaluation.

“What stands out is the strategic approach: analysing the data, setting targets, and making sure the job gets done," said ETSC Executive Director Antonio Avenoso. "If every country in Europe could get to the same level of safety as Ireland, we could cut road deaths by 40%. As it is, many countries are standing still and even going backwards."

Missed 2020 target

Ireland's progress stands in contrast to relative stagnation in the EU as a whole. The number of people killed on the EU's roads last year was just 1% down from the previous year, and 4% down over the last five years. It now seems clear that an earlier EU target of cutting road deaths in half by 2020 will not be reached. It would require an unprecedented 21% reduction per year in 2019 and 2020.

The ETSC says that in many EU countries national road safety measures such as traffic police enforcement and safer infrastructure have been cut in recent years. At EU level, an update to minimum safety standards for new vehicles faced a delay of several years and was only passed this year. Those measures will take several years to have an effect, as the vehicle fleet on the roads is updated. The Commission is expected to come out with a new Road Safety Policy Framework for the period 2021-2030 in the coming months.

Commissioner Bulc, who also spoke at the event, focused her remarks on the potential of new technologies to save lives. "The vision is clear: it’s not only to change the mindset of people," she said. "We are very interesting creatures. We get distracted easily. We have so many interests. There is no way that just through human behaviour we can address these challenges."

"I have big hopes to continue to develop safe systems to bring on board new technologies," she said. Bulc is fighting for a new technology to be introduced in Europe that would make cars able to communicate with the smartphones being carried by nearby pedestrians and cyclists, using wifi. In this system, the car would automatically stop if it detects a smartphone suddenly crossing the street in front of it.

However the proposal is being held up by national EU governments, some of whom want the system to use the new 5G signals now being developed by private companies, instead of wifi. Bulc says that if the EU waits for 5G to be commonplace, it will mean too much of a delay to a technology already available today.

"Safety cannot be for sale, it cannot be a commercialised service," she said. "If tomorrow 5G is ready, we will open the way. But let’s deliver by the end of this year, please council adopt this, today not in five or 10 years."

Other new technologies now becoming available include Intelligent Speed Assistance, in which a car can automatically detect the speed limit on a road and it will stop accelerating after that limit has been reached. The EU passed a law earlier this year requiring the system on all new vehicles - but drivers will have the ability to disable it. ETSC says this ability to block the system will mean less lives are saved than if it was not overridable.

Dave Keating is based in Brussels, where he has been covering EU politics and policy for 13 years.