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12 people, 48 hours – a death every 240 minutes

This week beginning 10 July 2006 has been particularly bad for Irish families. Road deaths appear to be dramatically rising, although the way the media portrays it you would think it was 100’s more than last year instead of the real figure of 22 compared with this time in 2005.

Now I’m not making light of a very serious situation, far from it: Any death on our roads is certainly a tragic event. The media however, must realise that they do not control this, that they have no command over the actions of drivers. If anything, it could even be argued that listening to radio stations while driving is a distraction that may cause accidents, placing the media and its offering of light-hearted escapism directly at the cause of accidents. That of course is hypothetical and I am not suggesting that this is the case.

While the media may clamber on from their pockets of non-news with flavour of the month stories, just like that outbreak of Ebola in Africa about 12 years ago that was going to wipe us all out (I think the story lasted 2 weeks and I have heard nothing since), they often fail to address the real issue. Why are people dying on our roads? The answer is non-trivial but not entirely incomprehensible.

People do not die because they are young, they do not die because they are learner drivers. Statistics can be gathered for any argument and as such great attention should be paid to sample frames and other factors used in these condemning reports. A quick example: If a young person dies on the road, it doesn’t mean that they caused the accident or even that they were in a car. It’s all about the resolution of the figure presented.

The main reason that people die on our roads is down to aggression. Aggressive driving is not common amongst those starting off in life, in fact it is more often caused by experienced drivers who cannot bear to have a slow driver ahead of them doing perhaps 10kmh under the limit. Another problem associated with experienced drivers is a complete lack of vigilance and road ethics. Has anyone ever driven in Dublin lately? I swear every car sold there was sold without indicators and incredibly bad tracking; nobody ever stays in lane or indicates to say that they are changing lanes. Remember before you sat your driving test, remember how rigidly you stuck to the left side of the road and never in your life would you ever go near the middle of two lanes on a two-lane roundabout. Yet so many times I have had to brake for older drivers who nearly run me off the roundabout by crossing over to this middle section.

It has also been said that many accidents happen at night or the early hours of the morning. Why do people need to be out driving in the early hours of the morning? Social activity? Perhaps. Working? Probably a lot of cases are attributable to people travelling to and from work. In many cases our roads are full of people who are exhausted, having worked long hours for little gain, returning home to collect the kids they see for 2 hours a day, pandering to the need for money above life. These days, people are practically forced to own cars by their employers – it was never the case for the generation that built the mighty Ireland so many years ago. Yet more and more people are flocking to the roads at increasingly different hours of the day and night, resulting in a constant stream of traffic all day long.

How do we stop road accidents? We don’t! No matter what measures are put in place, accidents will happen. People will be careless and sometimes things just cannot be avoided. As every media and insurance company instrument likes to say, there are so many accidents caused by young drivers. However, they often neglect to say that this figure is a percentage of many road accidents, perhaps not even a majority percentage. The point here is that out of every set of data there will always be a percentage, perhaps our focal set of data is cars on the road, then we conclude that a percentage will crash. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that if the number of cars on the roads increases then so too may the number of crashes; it’s all percentage linked, the percentage doesn’t change but the absolute value does.

How do we stop road accidents? We don’t! We simply control the number of potential road accidents by removing the need for people to drive 24/7.