We have failed because we are willing to tolerate roads that are simply no longer safe for the people living along them, a TD has said after the deaths of children on our roads.
In the Dail, Deputy Brian Leddin (Green Party) said: “I raise the issue of safety on our rural roads because another family has suffered an unbearable loss this week. Another innocent life has been taken, that of Aoibheann Duffy, an 11-year-old girl from County Kerry who was out for a cycle on a summer evening near her home. We have failed this young girl and her family. We have failed in our duty of care towards people living in rural areas. We have failed because we are willing to tolerate roads that are simply no longer safe for the people living along them.”
Leddin said: “This is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only in the past 20 or 30 years that our rural roads have become the sole preserve of the car, van and truck. Before that, our roadways were shared and people could, and did, walk and cycle safely on them. Vehicles have got bigger and faster and roads have been widened and designed for speed to the extent that many families are locked inside their front gates, unable to go anywhere unless they do so by car.
“We have made people in rural Ireland more dependent than ever on cars, with all the dire health and social impacts that go with that. In our towns and cities, we have rightly adopted a hierarchy of road users when we design roads. This hierarchy states that we must satisfy the needs of the most vulnerable first. The order of priority goes from the most vulnerable road user to the least vulnerable. In rural Ireland, perversely, we have, in effect, inversed that hierarchy and it is the fast, powerful vehicle that dominates,” he said.
He said that the Government has started a “revolution in active travel, with unprecedented investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, safe routes to schools and greenways in rural areas” but stressed: “We need to give more attention to our rural roads. Cycling and walking are not solely urban activities.”
“We can do more to stop families from experiencing the preventable death of a child on the roads. I want to extend my sympathies to the Duffy family in Kerry and, indeed, to all the families who have lost loved ones in road accidents. One of my own family members was killed by a driver while cycling and I know the hurt and pain of such a loss can persist for decades”
He added: “In the Netherlands, an active travel revolution was started in the 1970s with the call to “Stop de Kindermoord”, which means “stop the child murder”. This past year has demonstrated the capacity of the State to act to prevent premature deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. We have stayed at home, worn masks and kept our distance. We do not have to shut down our economy to prevent children from dying on the roads of rural Ireland. We just need to stop, think of the unbearable grief suffered by families and demonstrate the same capacity for action to prevent the premature deaths of children in road accidents.
Responding on behalf of the transport and junior transport ministers, Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, said: “First, I take this opportunity, on behalf of both the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, to express our deepest sympathies to the family of Aoibheann Duffy, who was killed in a collision near Abbeydorney on Monday night. Any death on the road is a death too many but we can all agree that the loss of a young child – in this case, only 11 years of age – is desperately sad.”
He said: “While we have made remarkable progress in the field of road safety over the past 20 years and fatalities on Irish roads have reduced dramatically since we first started following a strategic approach to road safety in 1998, deaths and serious injuries among vulnerable road users remain a serious concern. The next road safety strategy, which will run from 2021 to 2030, is being prepared by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, and the programme for Government has committed to focusing the new strategy on protecting vulnerable road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists.”
“As the Deputy is aware, rural roads throw up a whole different set of infrastructural and safety challenges compared with roads in more built-up, urban areas. I must make absolutely clear that the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the Roads Act 1993,” said Minister Noonan.
He said: “There are many factors involved in road safety. Vehicle standards, road conditions and, above all, road user and driver behaviour have an impact on how safe our roads are. In just over two decades we have seen a large reduction in the number of fatalities on our roads, from 472 in 1997 to a record low of 138 in 2018. This remarkable transformation was due to many actions by many people and organisations and was achieved against a backdrop of a significant increase in the number of vehicles on our roads. However, we cannot be complacent.”
He added: “Both the RSA and An Garda Síochána have indicated that they will focus on education and enforcement for the remainder of the year. Later this year, the RSA is planning to develop a new road safety campaign that will focus on the safety of rural roads. The campaign will have a particular focus on appropriate measures on excessive speeding by drivers and the need to always expect the unexpected.”