— TD asks why there isn’t education programmes around the dangers of SUVs.
A TD has challenged the Road Safety Authority for spending a “huge amount of money” and focusing on high-vis with “very little research around it” and because it is victim-blaming.
The RSA spends around €800,000 per year on buying high-vis and this was challenged at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport last week.
TD for Dublin Central, Neasa Hourigan (Green Party) said: “Let me be explicit about the point I am making. In the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets there is a principle set out on the hierarchy of the street, which is that vulnerable pedestrians are first, then pedestrians in general, then people such as cyclists and then we get to motorised vehicles. If we look at the operation of how we are running the country, we are placing the onus and responsibility for safety on small children whom we are asking to wear high-vis material. Is this a fair reflection of what is happening?”
She questioned the RSA having school-based campaigns around high-vis, such as its “Hi-Glo Silver” campaign, but not having similar ones for SUV drivers given the extra dangers around SUVs.
“We are going into their places of education and asking them to draw pictures and posters stating if they wear high-vis material, they will not be knocked down by an SUV. There is no parity of esteem on a street for a six-year-old faced with an SUV. Is this fair?” she said.
Deputy Hourigan added: “We are spending €800,000 on high-vis material. Would it be better to spend this almost €1 million on educating drivers who are propelling large dangerous vehicles around our roads?”
Committee chairperson, Limerick City TD, Kieran O’Donnell (Fine Gael) said: “I do not want this to be adversarial. Deputy Hourigan has made a valid point. We are all trying to make the roads safer. Providing high-vis material to school children is very welcome. Is there also a need to extend the programme to include all aspects of this?”
Deputy Hourigan said: “With respect, the point is that we are victim blaming small children. To be honest, research on high-vis material and cycling is poor. Research on high-vis material and pedestrians is almost non-existent. We spend huge amounts of money with very little research behind it. The question is whether we should be spending this money on educating drivers and putting money into making our streets safer.”
Sam Waide, CEO of the RSA, said: “The answer is ‘Yes’. In the road safety strategy, there is a specific action on safe road use and safe travel to work. This will be a programme with employers. It will not only encourage safer driving. One of our delivery partners is the HSE. One area is van drivers wearing high-vis vests. This is something they already do as some employers provide high-vis vests for their van drivers. If there is a recommendation in the road safety strategy, we will implement it if it helps and encourages safer road use.”
Deputy O’Donnell said: “I am a former councillor and have been a public representative for many years. We deal with this issue on a daily basis. People in residential areas approach me to say they want speed limits reduced. I go back to the council and interact with it. I have been dealing with this for years and I understand it. The question is: what will work?”
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He added: “I always look at things in the round. I would like my child to wear a high-visibility jacket because it is better than not wearing one. I take the point about education certainly around users of cars and vehicles. What model actually works, is practical and gets us to the same endpoint? I would like Mr. Rowland to do housekeeping on this. Is the working group the RSA recommended in the strategy up and running at this stage?”
Michael Rowland, director of road safety research and driver education at the RSA, said: “In regard to hi-vis, our preference would be that we would not have to distribute hi-vis. That will happen once we reduce speed limits and we have safer streets. In the meantime, we are left with no choice but to ensure that our children are safe on the roads and that is the reason we distribute hi-vis jackets.”
Joan Swift, a spokesperson for Love 30, a campaign group for lower speed limits, said: “Some of the UK local police forces are quite vocal on social media making the point that, unless people are looking, they will not see someone. They show photographs of a police car with high-vis or, as we have seen all too often here, railway bridges plastered with high-vis material and nonetheless people drive into them.”
She added: “I support Deputy Hourigan in the sense it is not that we do not want our children to be safe and to be seen but is the onus on the child? We do not know whether high-vis materials make a difference or whether there are other measures that might make a bigger difference.”