Comment & Analysis: When I published an article which ripped to shreds Conor Skehan’s Sunday Independent column (it wasn’t hard, the man has a poor grasp of facts), I was told I was being too kind to him by calling him a contrarian. But there are no words I could accurately call Skehan and still remain somewhat polite about it.
His comments on NewsTalk yesterday were even worse than his column in the Sunday Independent.
He suggested that the Road Safety Authority would be better off “looking at what pedestrians are doing and how they might behave themselves in ways that would be less dangerous.” Pedestrians make mistakes but implying on national airways that they alone are at fault when the result of Court cases shows otherwise is not just sickening victim blaming, but also plain wrong.
So, no, it’s not just about emotions as Skehan would like to imply. But unless you’re sociopathic, emotions tend to be important when there’s a spike in deaths.
Skehan is very fond of claiming he has all of the facts — or “true facts” as he called them on NewsTalk — when the reality is that he’s shamelessly wrong on matters of fact.
“The headlines suggested there was an increase in road accidents, but when you drilled into it it turns out there was a decrease in people dying in cars and passengers. And a very significant increase, a doubling, of pedestrian deaths,” he said on NewsTalk.
As I wrote about his newspaper column, his facts are based on data between 2021 and 2022 alone, when most people are concerned with the spike in road deaths this year. The main increase in deaths so-far this year is the deaths of passengers, not pedestrian deaths.
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Anybody who half follows the news and the emotional intelligence for any real sense of the tragedy on our roads this year will have a sense that there have been a significant number of collisions where a number of people in one car have died. This is backed by data.
There were 22 passenger deaths for the whole of last year. The number so-far this year has already climbed to 30. Based on normal trends, it can be estimated that the number of pedestrians and drivers killed on our roads will likely also exceed the number in 2022.
But no other road user type has as clear of an increase this year to date as the deaths of vehicle passengers.
The increases in deaths among the other types of road users also have one common denominator — motorists were involved in the vast bulk of those collisions across the board. That’s why targeting the speed of motorists is likely an effective measure.
And the “blame game” doesn’t need to come into it — even if somebody outside of a car makes a mistake (say a child running after a football), if a driver is travelling at a lower speed the chances of a collision is reduced and, if a crash happens, the chances of a severe outcome is lowered at lower speed.
Skehan also claimed today that “Germany have very few speed limits; their law is about reasonable behaviour” — this is really not true except on the Autobahns. Some German cities not only have 30km/h limits but have some 50km/h streets that reduce to 30km/h to reduce the noise impact. The arguments against keeping the status quo on Autobahns which results in high differences between different motorists are also mounting (including for safety, environmental, and economic reasons).
Skehan is also very pleased to tell listeners on NewsTalk that he knows about speeds because he was trained in the US to design roads — however, it is well-documented that the US system of road design for a long time has focused too much on prioritising for speed over safety.
The fact stands that most of the proposed lowering of the default speed limits in Ireland will have a limited effect on travel time (aka what Skehan might call a “punishment”) for a notable increase in safety — for example, if somebody is hit by a car driver at 50km/h, they have a 50% chance of surviving, but if hit at 60km/h that chance declines to 10%.
He talks about distraction, but Skehan’s twisting of some facts and being plain wrong on many others is one big distraction to an evidence-based approach. But his kind of messing is what actually distracts us from getting on with enforcement, engineering and education to reduce road deaths and serious injuries.