I spent a fun hour this morning reading the DRD annual Transport Statistics Report (2014/15) for Northern Ireland.1_202328_police-accident-b
Having an interest in road safety, I got to thinking about why there was such a big increase in road deaths in Northern Ireland in 2014. The average annual road death figure for the 4 year period 2010 to 2013 was 55. In 2014 sadly there were 79 road deaths.

Unfortunately the 2014 total does not appear to be an outlier. As at 5th November there have been 59 road deaths year to date in Northern Ireland (8 less than the corresponding 2014 year to date total). This includes 3 in the first 4 days of November: two pedestrians, an elderly lady in Ballycastle and a man in Belfast. The third was an elderly gentleman driver in Poyntzpass.

The DoE, who are responsible for road safety, have been set an aspirational target of reducing road deaths to zero. So why are road deaths on the increase? I offer here a few observations.

Economic conditions are improving, resulting in an increase in the number of vehicles on the road. Due to the current low cost of fuel vehicles are also being used more often. The resultant increase in traffic has invariably resulted in an increase in crashes.

Accident frequency in Northern Ireland was 56 per 10,000 vehicles in 2014, compared with 43 in England. The higher frequency of accidents in Northern Ireland may be explained by the fabric of our road network. Motorways and A roads make up less than 10% (measured by road length), whereas 61% of our roads are unclassified. Perhaps our road infrastructure is simply more dangerous than that of England.

In looking at demographic breakdowns of road traffic fatalities two things jump out at me. Firstly the vast majority are male. 43 of the 61 fatalities year to date were male. More striking is the fact that, of the 30 vehicle drivers killed, 27 were male.

Secondly, drivers in the age group 16 to 24 are greatly over-represented in road death statistics. According to 2011 Census this age group represents 11% of the Northern Ireland population. Year to date there are 16 fatalities in this age group, representing 26% of the total. This statistic is depressingly consistent with previous years.

Those resident in Northern Ireland will be familiar with the DoE endorsed TV road safety ads. They are targeted largely at young drivers and are intended to focus awareness on the consequences of careless and reckless road use. In recent times they have become increasingly stark and shocking. I wonder how effective they are in influencing driver behaviour and in reducing incidence of serious road accidents.

Last December I had the good fortune to attend the annual Road Safety Authority ‘Leading Lights’ awards ceremony in Dublin. I note that today is the closing date for nominations for the inaugural Northern Ireland Road Safety Awards. This is an excellent way to recognise the contribution made by people and by various organisations to road safety locally. I applaud the organisers of the Northern Ireland Awards and wish them success with this initiative. We need to get back on the road towards zero. I suggest it will take some fresh thinking to find the way back.

First published on LinkedIn 6th November 2015