Roads safer than in past, but much more to be done

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The confirmation this week that 22 more people died on Northern Ireland’s roads last year than in 2013 is a depressing statistic.

It became clear by the summer that 2014 was shaping up as a much more dangerous year on the roads than the years immediately preceding it.

Yet, as our news story on page 11 explains in detail, 2014 was in fact the fifth safest year on Northern Irish roads since records began in 1931.

The total number of deaths, at 79, was well above the 57 people killed in 2013, but was still much lower than the 100+ people who died in road traffic collisions in each year between 1931 (when records began) and 2008.

For much of that 77-year period, there really was carnage on the Province’s roads, with death tolls often far above 200 fatalities.

It seems distasteful to describe 2014 as “relatively safe” when so many families suffered the heartbreak of losing a loved one.

But it is important that we are aware of the reasons for the long-term decline in road deaths if we are to sustain the decline.

Stormont ministers and senior PSNI officers are among those who say, rightly, that they will never be content until the number of people killed on the roads falls down near the zero level.

At the heart of the safety improvements to date has been the tougher enforcement of regulations such as speed limits and seat belt laws.

Speed cameras are still resented by many motorists but better enforcement of speed limits has been crucial to cutting casualties.

A similarly robust approach to drivers who drink or who cause serious injury as a result of their dangerous (or even merely careless) driving has helped make our roads safer.

The upturn in deaths last year showed that there is still much work to be done to minimise as far as possible the serious harm that can be caused by that great invention, the automobile.