Despite rise, road death tally still historically low

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Last year was one of the safest years on record on Northern Ireland’s roads, despite a sharp rise in deaths.

A total of 79 people died after collisions in 2014; which as reported yesterday was a substantial increase on the 2013 total of 57 deaths.

The previous year, 2012, was the safest since records began, with 48 deaths.

Last year ended a four-year spell of unusually low numbers of road deaths, which began in 2010 when 55 people were killed and continued in 2011 with 59 deaths.

Prior to that, more than 100 people were killed in each year since records began in 1931 (when 114 people died on Northern Ireland’s roads).

For most of the period between the 1930s and the beginning of the 21st century, more than 150 people died annually on the roads.

Between the 1960s and 80s, more than 200 people died each year.

The roads were at their most dangerous in the 1970s when 372 people died in 1972 and 355 people died in 1977.

Traffic levels were significantly lower then than today, at around half current levels.

This means that if fatalities per-mile-travelled had stayed at 1970s levels, somewhere between 600 and 800 people would have died in 2014, up to 10 times the actual death toll of 79.

Last year was in fact the fifth safest year on record and markedly safer than the next safest year which was 2008, with 107 deaths. That year was itself notably lower than the years immediately preceding it: an average of 144 people died annually in the decade 1998 to 2007 inclusive.

The reasons for last year’s sudden rise in deaths are unclear, but it may mark the end of an abnormally safe spell on the roads and a return towards the long-term norm.

Even if so, 2014 was consistent with the long-term overall decline in fatalities since the 1970s.

Safety experts have a good understanding of the reasons for that long-term decline, which is attributed to multiple factors, the most significant of which is high compliance with seat belt laws.

Other key factors are: tougher enforcement of speed, drink and careless driving rules, better designed cars and roads, clearer road markings, better driver training, and higher awareness of the risks.

See Morning View, page 38