A year tinged with heart-numbing sadness

When the bells peal on a new year, we enter it with a bucket of fresh hope that the changing of what are just numbers will alter what lies ahead. It is a naive but innocent assumption that does no harm.

Yet, we hope that there will be a new beginning, that this year will be better than last; that the mistakes we made in the past will be rectified by the new knowledge of the future.

In terms of road safety, we thought that Ireland had moved on from the dark old days when people drove intoxicated, when seat belts were not even in every car, when the roads were narrow and windy and challenging for all drivers.

Within days of the New Year being upon us, we were shocked by the numbers of people who perished while using our roads. Accidents with not just one victim or two, but multiples.

As I write this, the west of Ireland and in particular, Galway is coming to terms with the latest road tragedy. One that claimed the lives of a mother and her two young daughters on Tuesday afternoon.

The accident on the N17 at Castlegar, Claremorris has shocked the nation, and the Galway village where they come from has been plunged into mourning.

The schoolmates of the young children have been stunned by this tragedy coming in the heart of the Easter holidays; the deceased were just normal people doing normal things. They played sport; they participated in their communities and they loved life.

To have them snatched from us all so suddenly and in such a shocking manner has numbed us all. Again.

The deaths bring to 52 the number of people who have died on Irish roads since the turn of the year. If this continues, we will see the worst year for ages in terms of road fatalities.

There are many reasons for this and we are well versed in the various campaigns. Programmes warning about the dangers of speeding, driving while using phones, driving while intoxicated have been drummed into us, and in the main, they are being adhered to.

However, one aspect that never seems to be addressed in these campaigns is the sheer appalling state of Irish roads over the past few years. Since Covid, the level of deterioration that our roads are allowed to reach is unprecedented. The severe weather has created potholes and poor surfaces on major and minor roads, and subsequent unprecedented flooding conceals the damage, until it is too late.

In election year, I am sure we will see a plethora of road improvements, but the manner in which roads funding is spent (often a burst in late December to use up surpluses ) needs to be reviewed, and the role of roads in serious accidents needs to be looked at, in tandem with the other mores of social and cultural driver behaviour.

In the immediate aftermath of this and recent road incidents, Gardai have had to take to the airwaves and social media to ask people not to share images of crashes. The curse of this ‘public journalism’ is that often parameters of appropriateness are breached in a race to the bottom.

The three deaths from the accident in Claremorris follow the death last Friday of a woman who had been in a road accident at Menlo ten days earlier. Such a sad time

The clocks change this weekend; the evenings will become brighter. The opportunity for more movement on our roads will come around again. The call to use the roads will be as strong as ever.

Next Christmas, there will be at least 52 empty seats at tables across this country. There will be many classrooms shocked and stunned by the loss of their fellow students.

If this rate continues, that number will be much higher. The roads that give us so much possibility are also becoming the killing fields of Ireland. Every aspect of why this is so, needs to be reviewed so that we can temper the deterioration back into the bad old days of Irish road safety.

To the families and friends of those who have perished, we need to send the shoulder of support to aid them through these terrible terrible times. May the deceased rest in peace.

 

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