We each have a part to play in road tragedy clampdown
Road Safety Week is a reminder that we all have a responsibility to help reduce the carnage on our roads, says Alex Attwood
Many thousands of families in Northern Ireland have been devastated by the grief of loss and the heartache of long-term serious injury caused by road traffic accidents. My sympathies are with them.
In many cases, serious injury can mean brain damage, paralysis or amputation and care is required all day, every day for the rest of the individual's - and the family's - life.
My thoughts go out to those families whose loved-ones began their day like any other. Saying goodbye as normal as they go to work, or to the shop - fit, healthy and well - never to return home.
Last year, a total of 55 people were killed on our roads, which was the lowest on record.
But it is difficult to take pleasure from this when 55 people - just like you and me - were going about their business, presumably with hope, ambition and enthusiasm for the life they expected to have.
A further 892 people had their lives radically and painfully altered by the serious injuries they sustained due to a road crash in 2010. This is what drives the Department of the Environment (DoE) and its road safety partners - the PSNI, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and Ambulance Service, among others - to work towards reducing the carnage on the roads. We must do everything possible to prevent this loss and suffering from touching any more lives.
And this is not just about one week of the year. Analysis of the statistics reveal that road safety is a continuous 24/7 challenge.
As road users, we are all vulnerable - every journey, every day, every road. This is due to the certainty of the unexpected which makes it crucial to reduce speed, wear seatbelts and eliminate high-risk behaviours.
The riskiest individual factors causing road deaths are, in order: excessive speed; driver alcohol or drugs; inattention or attention diverted; wrong course/position; heedless of traffic; emerging from minor road/driveway without care; pedestrian alcohol or drugs and; overtaking without care.
However, the biggest aggregated cause of road deaths is driver carelessness/inattention, accounting for 32% of all road deaths between 1998 and 2010.
Unfortunately, as regards road casualties, males continue to represent the road users most at risk of death over the past five years. Males aged 17-24, followed by all the older male groups, are most vulnerable, followed by females aged 17-24.
In the past five years, pedestrians accounted for 18% of road deaths and serious injuries, compared to 62% for car drivers and passengers. But the highest-risk pedestrians in the past five years, over-represented for death are, in order: male 65+; male 17-24; female 10-16; female over 65 and; male 50-64.
When serious injuries are included, the highest-risk pedestrians in the past five years are, in order: male 10-16; male 17-24; female 10-16; male 0-9; male over 65 and; female over 65.
I draw only one conclusion from the statistics. Road deaths do not discriminate. They include every age and every grouping.
This is why I will keep striving for improvements in road safety - to help prevent future tragedies.
My department is fully committed to improving safety for all road users. I firmly believe that we can make a journey on our roads as safe as anywhere in the world.
As road users, we each have a role to play in preventing deaths and injuries on our roads.
Road safety is a 24/7 continuous challenge - for all of us.