LAST year was by far the safest ever year on Northern Ireland’s roads, with the lowest number of people killed.
A total of 48 people were killed in traffic accidents in the Province, a fraction of the number of fatalities in each year from records began in the 1930s until 2009, when there were always more than 100 deaths, and often several hundred.
However, the ongoing road risks were underlined on Monday with confirmation of the death of a toddler following a weekend accident on the Comber Road in Dundonald.
The child was fatally injured on Saturday when an unoccupied car rolled into a mother and her pram. The mother suffered non-life threatening injuries while a 31-year-old man was arrested and later released on bail pending further inquiries.
But overall, it was another exceptionally safe year on the roads.
The figures confirm a trend in recent years in which the carnage on Ulster’s roads has been slashed.
Fatalities in 2011 and 2010, 59 and 55 respectively, were barely half the previous lowest death totals.
Prior to those two years, the safest year was 2008 with 107 deaths, which was itself exceptionally safe compared to previous years.
But now the death toll is even lower.
Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, said that there were a number of reasons for the improvement.
“We are not very good at remembering what the high numbers of deaths used to be, because we are all still so moved by the number of people who do still continue to die in road crashes.
“This reminds us of course that there is always room for improvement.
“We are benefitting from two engineering improvements to cars and roads.
“Cars have air bags all over the place and are designed to absorb impact and protect the occupants.
“Roads have crash barriers which again are an impact absorber, and they have better, clearer markings which can affect the way the driver reads the road and therefore how he behaves.”
Mr Howard said that speed cameras were also a factor: “Better use and enforcement of speed limits reduces both the number and severity of accidents.”
To put the scale of the reduction in road deaths into perspective, almost eight times more people were killed in the worst year – 1972 – than last year.
But road traffic levels have more than doubled in the meantime, which means that the improvement is even more stark when measured per mile travelled.
The chance of being killed was almost 20 times greater then than now.
And as recently as 2000, 171 people were killed on the roads in Northern Ireland – more than three times last year’s total.