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Uniform gardaí have recently been instructed to carry out 30 minutes of high visibility road policing per shift. Alamy Stock Photo
Road Safety

Road Safety Authority criticises reduced road policing strength - and defends ditching 'shock' ads

The RSA set out how it hopes to tackle rising road deaths – and why it has moved away from ‘shock’ ads.

LAST UPDATE | 24 Apr

THE ROAD SAFETY Authority (RSA) has warned that a “substantial” fall in the number of gardaí assigned to road policing is risking the state’s ability to tackle rising road deaths and worsening dangerous driving.

In a written submission to the Oireachtas Transport Committee, with which it met this afternoon, the RSA said that despite increases in fatalities in four of the past five years, there have been “subtantial reductions in the numbers in the roads policing unit”.

The RSA noted a fall from 1,046 members in 2009 to 627 as of February – a drop of 40%.

“This has the potential to reduce our ability to tackle Ireland’s rising fatality and dangerous behaviour trends,” the RSA warned.

“Consequently, fatalities and serious injuries in road traffic collisions are likely to increase unless road safety interventions are amplified to counter this growth,” it said.

sam waide RSA chief executive Sam Waide speaking at the Oireachtas Transport Committee this afternoon. Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

The RSA also raised concerns, in the context of limited road policing numbers, about the proposed Sale of Alcohol Bill to allow for later licensing in bars and nightclubs.

Given that Ireland “clearly has a significant problem with drink driving”, the RSA said it was concerned later opening could have a “further negative impact on road safety…particularly in the absence of signficiant increases in roads policing numbers”.

Uniform gardaí have recently been instructed to carry out 30 minutes of “high visibility” roads policing per shift in an attempt to improve driver behaviour given the stark increase in the number of people dying on the roads, a policy that has been welcomed by the RSA.

The RSA also revealed that a quarter of drivers and passengers killed on Irish roads in the 10 years to 2022 were not wearing seatbelts, with observational data pointing to a fall-off in seatbelt wearing last year. An estimated 10% of drivers and passengers killed last year were not wearing a seatbelt, but data is not yet available for 50% of those crashes.

‘Shock’ adverts

In its wide-ranging submission, the RSA also defended the change in approach in its campaigning in recent years, in particular a move away from “shock road safety adverts”.

In the past, dramatised ads depicting catastrophic collisions and their effects were frequently shown on terrestrial television. These included 2007′s ‘Mess’ campaign in which a boy racer collides with another car, killing his passenger and a boy standing at a nearby wall and leaving a girl with permanent damage to her legs.

The RSA indicated it’s still trying desperately to get through to young men, who are particularly likely to be involved in a serious accident.

However, it suggested they’re “not as shocked” by “more graphic road safety adverts” compared with other poeple. That’s because “young men are very exposed to violence and gore in action and horror movies through gaming”.

It added that evidence shows shock ads “have less impact than we might imagine, particularly where we’re targeting a young male audience”. It said ads in which victims of road traffic accidents give testimony, such as the ‘For Ciaran’ campaign and a new campaign involving cyclist Imogen Cotter, have been found to be more powerful – but argued that ads about the consequences of accidents will not work as a “standalone approach”.

The RSA has conducted focus groups with young men in which it finds that they tend to have a “positivity bias”, whereby they “simply do not believe that a fatality, or a serious injury to a slightly lesser degree, can happen to them”. It has also found that young men tend to over estimate their own driving skills, making them feel more comfortable speeding.

It said an upcoming e-scooter ad will use “humour”, while its current 30kmh campaign “relies on pressing a positive motivational button tha makes driving more slowly in urban areas somethign people want to do”.

Deadly trend among 16 to 25-year-olds

The RSA set out in detail what the data shows on the significant increase in the number of fatalities and serious injuries occuring on Irish roads. To date, 64 people have died on Irish roads this year, 15 higher than the same point last year.

The RSA noted a “continuing trend in deaths among young people”, with three in 10 fatalities this year aged between 16 and 25.

The RSA noted that the number of young people aged between 16 and 25 who were killed last year was almost double what it had been over each of the five previous five years. Almost a third of the young people who died last year were drivers. A further third were passengers – and in most cases, these passengers were in the car of a young driver.

Risks for cyclists

Elsewhere, the RSA’s data shows the higher risk of serious injury faced by cyclists, particularly those getting around by bike in urban areas.

As the committee hearing was underway this afternoon, news broke that a woman in her 20s had died after being hit by a truck while cycling in Dún Laoghaire this morning, the fourth death on Irish roads in 24 hours. 

Cyclists suffered 19% of all serious injuries recorded on Irish roads between 2019 and 2023.

Eight in 10 of these cyclists were on an urban road at the time – for pedestrians this was even higher at nine in 10. By contrast, fatalities in Ireland are more likely to occur on high speed rural roads.

“Looking at longer term international research and Irish data it is clear that speeding, intoxicated, distracted or fatigued driving, and the non-wearing of seat belts are some of the main contributory factors to death and serious injury on our roads,” the RSA submission stated.

Mobile phone use

Sam Waide, chief executive of the RSA, told the committee said mobile phone use while driving was “killer behaviour”. RSA surveys have suggested one in five check their phone while driving. 

Waide said that technology to check mobile phone use while driving is used “very effectively” by Spanish police, and introducing this kind of technology in Ireland would be welcomed by the RSA.

He said that if new legislation was needed to allow such technology to be used here, it should be introduced.

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