Seat belts, airbags, tax, insurance, and the Rules of the Road are among the things which make motorists the most vulnerable users of the our roads, a Fine Gael Senator said on Wednesday.
In the Seanad, the Irish parliament’s upper house, Tom Shehan (Fine Gael) said that even in cases when a pedestrian is killed, the motorist is the “most vulnerable person on the road”.
Shehan said: “I believe the motorist is the most vulnerable person on the road now because, God forbid it should happen, but if a driver is unlucky enough, in the dark of night, to hit a pedestrian who does not have a high-visibility vest, one can be sure it will be fatal if the car’s speed is over 25 mph. The point I want to stress about the vulnerable road user is that the person driving the car will have to live with that for the rest of his or her life.”
Shehan — who has previously claimed that drivers are seen to be “always to blame” and has twice told the Seanad of his recurring “run-ins” with people walking on rural roads — is campaigning to criminalise walking and cycling without high-vis on rural roads.
He said: “The term used is ‘vulnerable road users’, and these are said to be pedestrians and cyclists. I do not agree with that. I believe the most vulnerable person on the road at present is the motorist. The motorist must deal with the rules of the road and needs to have everything right with the car, have it taxed and insured and have seat-belts, airbags and everything else. Drivers are going about their business and yet people will not adhere to the simple requirement that they would wear a high-visibility jacket, in particular on dark evenings in winter. This is why something more strenuous has to be put in place.”
When addressing junior minister Michael Ring, Shehan said: “I have repeatedly raised this particular issue over the past three years, but perhaps now is an opportune time to have a proper debate. It is the question of whether the wearing of high-visibility jackets should be compulsory for cyclists and pedestrians, especially in rural areas and where there is no footpath or street lighting. The percentage of road fatalities that are made up of cyclists and pedestrians presents a frightening figure.”
He added: “We can get all the statistics and facts but I want to open up a debate on this. I have said to people that I was going to raise this issue and they said I would be accused of creating a nanny state but so be it if we create a nanny state if it is going to save lives. If the Minister of States checks the record, he will see that within three days of my raising this issue on the last occasion, two pedestrians were killed at night in my own county. I will keep raising this issue until something is done.”
Unlike his previous mentions of high-vis his latest anecdotal evidence does not include him nearly knocking down people walking. Instead he has switched to recalling a story of him demanding that his neighbour wears high-vis and how the neighbour has high-vis at home but did remember wear it out.
Junior minister at the department of transport and sport, Michael Ring (Fine Gael), said: “While the wearing of high-visibility equipment is a part of keeping safe on the roads, there are other safe behaviours to be practised when using roads and these are of equal value. In circumstances where people are negotiating unlit or poorly lit roadways, it is the responsibility of all us – cyclists, pedestrians and drivers – to take extreme care.”
Ring said: “I am not aware of any country that makes the wearing of high-visibility material by walkers and cyclists compulsory. A difficulty with such an approach would be in what circumstances walkers and cyclists would be required to wear such high-visibility material, in what weather conditions and at what times of the year, and so on. While I understand the Senator’s concern, and we are all convinced of the usefulness of high-visibility vests, I understand the Minister believes that the current promotional approach to high-visibility material is the correct one and the Minister has no plans to make their use a compulsory legal requirement.”
Shehan then repeated his claim that motorists are the most vulnerable on the roads. And added: “I understand that by making it compulsory, we would be accused of making this a nanny state. However, anything that saves lives should be done. The resources, in particular the high-visibility jackets, are available and there is no question mark in that regard. However, is there anything we can do to make people wear them? I have been told by gardaí that they often hand them out to pedestrians when they are on the beat.”