This year 70 people have been killed on Northern Ireland's roads. Although the total is lower than at the same time last year, it is still a terrible waste of life, especially since a large majority of those deaths could have been avoided. Speeding, driving while under the influence of drink or drugs and sheer inattention are among the main factors responsible for the death crashes.
In spite of high profile advertising campaigns and other road safety initiatives, these factors remain constant. It seems that too many people just don't heed the warnings before they get behind the wheel of their vehicles. If they won't listen to advice, then it is obvious that other measures are required.
A report by the Audit Office highlights some structural defects in the government's approach to road safety in Northern Ireland. Most worryingly, the report suggests that up to 5,000 young drivers - 100 a week - take to the roads every year without being sufficiently competent. The report questions the reliability of driving tests, saying that when examiners are accompanied by a supervisor the pass rate drops by 12%. Given the disproportionate number of young people involved in serious crashes, giving a driving licence to someone who is not up to scratch, quite literally, is an accident waiting to happen.
Detection and punishment of erring drivers is another deficiency highlighted by the report. The Audit Office estimates that up to 42,000 speeding motorists escaped punishment in a single year because of insufficient capacity within the PSNI's fixed penalty processing centre. The result was that only those who were detected exceeding the speed limit by a significant amount were fined or summonsed. There should be no acceptable level of speeding and the PSNI should be given sufficient resources to detect and punish all offenders.
The Audit Report also raised questions about the expensive road safety advertising campaigns run in Northern Ireland. One issue was that the impact of the advertisements was carried out by a firm appointed by the agency which made the films. It would, as the Audit Office said, be preferable if impact assessment was carried out by an organisation not associated with the design process.
However, the deficiencies in Northern Ireland's road safety structures must be taken in context. Last year 126 people died on the roads, the lowest total for almost 60 years, demonstrating that progress is being made. Tackling the defects outlined by the Audit Office could improve the situation even further. Road accidents are avoidable and effective education and enforcement can help reduce the carnage even further.