Crucial lessons to be learned from falling road death tolls

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On either side of Christmas day, three people died on Northern Ireland’s roads – Amy Loughrey, Paulo Roberto Maia-Lopes and Stephen Martin.

It is hard to think of more devastating and horrific thing to happen at the height of the festive season than for a family to learn of such a sudden death when everyone is preparing for joy and celebration.

The danger on the roads was underscored again with various crashes, some of which we report on page 11 today.

But we also report on the overall death toll in 2016, which was one of the lowest ever.

It almost seems indecent to report such good news when there are people grieving from road tragedies.

But it is important that we do report the successes, because there is much to be learned from them that can prevent other people being plunged into grief.

Last year 68 people died, which was the fifth safest year since records began. Since 2010, far fewer than 100 people have died each year on the roads. Before that, the fatality total in Northern Ireland was always more than 100, all the way back to the beginning of records in 1931. Most years it was far in excess of that level, sometimes several times it.

As we report today, more than 700 people would now be dying on the Province’s roads at 1970s rates, applied to today’s traffic levels. In other words around 14 people would be dying each week.

Now, on average, the number is a bit over one person per week. With so many lives being saved, it is essential that we know what we are doing right.

Every aspect of car usage is safer now than in the 1970s: the cars themselves, the design of roads, training of drivers and the penalties imposed on those whose driving is below par.

There might come a day in which driverless cars eliminate almost all road fatalities. But until then we can cut current death tolls by scrutinising what we are doing correctly and doing more of it.