Belfast Telegraph

We must halt return to the bad old days

By Ivan Little

The police and Stormont departments have spent millions on shock tactics - and a softly-softly approach - in a desperate bid to tackle the scourge of deaths on Northern Ireland's roads.

And for a time it appeared that the graphically gruesome TV advertisements and the gentler touch of awareness classes for speeding motorists were working.

For several years the number of fatalities dropped to unprecedented lows and the 2012 figure of 48 was just over a third of what would have been recorded in times gone by.

The death toll rose to 57 in 2013, but earlier this year road safety experts warned that the statistics were slowly slipping back to the levels of the bad old days. And so far in 2014 the number of fatalities stands at 79 - around 60% higher than the figure just two years ago.

The PSNI and the DoE have undoubtedly made dramatic advances in the past few decades to make the roads safer. What were once the accepted norms - like drinking and driving, failing to wear a seatbelt or driving clapped-out death-traps - have largely, but not completely, been eradicated.

A new sense of moral responsibility clearly prevails nowadays among drivers, who wouldn't have thought twice about ignoring the law in the 1970s when its custodians had more to worry about than motorists being over the limit.

Independent research has shown that the ceasefires and peace have helped the police to devote more time and resources on road safety. And there's no mistaking the fact that improvements in car design and upgrades on our roads have helped reduce the carnage alongside the campaigns against drink-driving and speeding.

But experts are growing concerned about the tendency for a new generation of drivers, particularly in the 17-24 age bracket, to ignore calls for them to slow down.

The message has been underlined to tens of thousands of motorists who've been offered the chance to take part in four-hour speed awareness courses here instead of paying a fine and getting penalty points, after they were caught breaking the speed limit.

The tutors show videos and produce irrefutable evidence that the faster a car is driven, the more injury it inflicts.

But despite the big budget adverts and back-to-school lectures, it seems the message that speed really does kill isn't getting across to everyone.

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