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Speech at Reception for International Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims

Áras an Uachtaráin, 17 November 2023

A cháirde,

Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, ba mhaith liom fáilte a fhearadh roimh chuile dhuine atá bailithe anseo inniu ag Áras an Uachtaráin agus muid ag glacadh páirt i Lá Domhanda i gCuimhne ar Dhaoine a d’Fhulaing de dheasca Timpistí ar Bhóithre.

[As President of Ireland, may I welcome all of you gathered here today to Áras an Uachtaráin as we mark World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.]

We come together today to remember and honour the memories of those of our citizens and visitors who have been killed tragically on our roads - 24,998 since records began in 1959.

It is an occasion and an opportunity to acknowledge their families and loved ones and to share with them in recognising the devastating impacts that road deaths and serious injuries have on communities.

May I welcome Minister of State, Jack Chambers T.D., and the Road Safety Authority, and extend a particular welcome to all those present this afternoon whose family members have tragically lost their lives on the road – the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, partners, grandchildren and grandparents who are no longer with us.

I welcome in particular representatives of the Irish Road Victims’ Association. Traoslaím libh. I recognise how, despite your immense grief and pain, you have found the fortitude and the strength, have the urge to citizenship to advocate for safer roads and fewer casualties across the island.

May I offer my heartfelt thanks to you all on behalf of all the citizens of Ireland for the important and generous advocacy work that you do. Your presence this afternoon represents the many families and communities around the country affected by road traffic incidents and reminds us all that behind every headline and news story is a grieving family.

We are of course not just remembering those who have lost their lives on our roads. Too many involved in a road traffic collision go on to sustain often life-changing serious injuries. Since we began recording serious injuries in 1977, 88,284 people have been seriously injured.

I think it is so important that this year’s International Day of Remembrance is also focussing on serious injuries, and I extend a warm welcome to those of you joining with us today who have personally suffered from such significant injuries. I know that many of you are continuing to use your own personal experience to help prevent others from facing the same challenges which you have endured.

In 2005, the United Nations declared ‘World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims’ as a global day to be observed every third Sunday in November each year, as the “appropriate acknowledgement for victims of road traffic injuries and their families”.

The day provides an opportunity to draw the public’s attention to road traffic crashes, their consequences and impacts, and the measures which can be taken to stop these untimely and tragic deaths from occurring.

Sadly the figures since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year in particular, are a matter for concern. They are not going in the right direction.

Four decades of remarkable progress on road safety saw Irish roads become the second safest in the European Union after Sweden by 2021, with 27 deaths per million of the population compared with an EU average of 51 deaths per million.

Sadly, last year saw a reverse, with an increase in road fatalities of 25 to 155 deaths. Regrettably, that number will be higher again this year, with road fatalities as of today standing at 168 so far in 2023. Each one of those deaths has left a family bereaved and a community bereft.

The statistics are informative and sobering. Road traffic collisions are one of the primary causes of death and serious injury globally, with the World Health Organisation estimating that approximately 1.3 million people are killed annually on the roads.

It is clear that a number of factors are at play with regard to fatalities from road traffic collisions.

Clearly, driver speed is a key factor, as is the condition of vehicles.

We must also acknowledge that the quality of the roads and roadsides themselves, with provision for safety for pedestrians and cyclists, must also be ensured.

The reality is that many housing developments across the country have been built without adequate basic infrastructure of safety, such as footpaths and cycle lanes, and in some cases there are very few safe places for people to walk or cycle in rural areas – even to walk to the local shop or walk their dog.

Analysis from the RSA shows that there were 43 pedestrians killed on Irish roads in 2022, with pedestrians accounting for the largest share of victims in urban areas. Analysis of the figures for this year indicates that pedestrian fatality figures for 2023 are estimated to be their highest in 15 years. The winter months are particularly dangerous for pedestrians.

The simple fact of taking a stroll on an evening has now become dangerous – at a time when we hope that people will choose to leave their cars at home both for environmental and personal wellbeing reasons. The simple truth is that for many, including children, it is too dangerous to use the roads as either a pedestrian or a cyclist. This must change.

Local Authorities have a crucial role to play in making roads and roadsides as safe as possible for all those who use them.

Tá ról tábhachtach ag chuile dhuine againn chun na bóithre a dhéanamh chomh sábháilte agus is féidir.

[Each one of us has an important role to play in making the roads as safe as possible.]

Driver attitudes and behaviour are critical to the achievement of safer roads, including adherence to safe speeds, never driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, preventing driving while distracted or tired, and use of seatbelts and protective equipment.

We must not, however, lose hope. The year 2023 has seen us take a disturbing turn for the worst, but it is one that can be reversed if the collective will is there to change.

May I thank the Road Safety Authority for their tireless efforts to make our roads safer. The Chairperson of the RSA, Liz O’Donnell, is a former colleague of mine. A good friend, I know Liz is, and will continue to be, a fearless campaigner who will strive to improve the stark statistics we face on this issue. 

As President, I offer my profound thanks to those who work to alleviate the impact of such serious injuries. Let us offer the warmest of welcomes to representatives from the National Rehabilitation Hospital and the Acquired Brain Injury Ireland.

I am glad to have the opportunity today of recognising too the work of a crucial group, the first-responders present, who deal with the often-horrific aftermath of road traffic collisions – the emergency services, including paramedics, gardaí, as well as those operating the ‘blood bikes’ service who volunteer to bring blood supplies to hospitals across the country.

May I pay tribute today to all of the other vulnerable road workers, such as school wardens and road maintenance workers, who work in what are often dangerous conditions.

As we mark World Remembrance Day, may we all take a moment and remember everyone who has been affected by collisions on our roads. As we honour the memory of those who have died, let each of us think of how we can make a positive change, in increasing awareness of the responsibility we all have when using the roads.

We must all, at every level, work together towards achieving a greater and necessary safety on our roads, so that no family has to mourn the loss of a loved one from a road traffic collision. Let us demonstrate the solidarity required to deliver this future, with a shared urgency and determination.

Beir beannacht.