Saving Lives On Our Roads

1 April 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

This week’s announcement that completion of a formal course of training will very shortly become a compulsory requirement for learner drivers is undoubtedly a step in the right direction in addressing the still disturbingly high number of serious accidents and fatalities on Irish roads.
This newspaper has consistently advocated that the best means of ensuring that new drivers are proficient in driving techniques, acquainted with the rules of the road and – most importantly – maturely aware of their responsibilities to other road users is to build the necessary skills base into the programme of second-level education imparted to our young people.
Until this is done – and it must be acknowledged that it will require a considerable redeployment of resources and a major curricular adjustment – there will inevitably be a steady stream of new drivers entering onto Irish roadways haphazardly schooled in both the practicalities and the etiquette of responsible driving practice.
The new measures announced by the Road Safety Authority this week appear a comparatively poor substitute for having a compulsory formal programme of driving instruction available in our schools.
Nonetheless, they do offer a reasonable hope for some appreciable improvement of standards. Making it compulsory for learners to complete 12 hours of training over a six-month period before they can sit their test is a good start. The requirement should bring home to participants the due seriousness with which they have to approach this aspect of their public conduct and interaction with society.
However, it is a starting point that must be built upon.
While the RSA has set out a syllabus that drivers are recommended to follow in the course of their training, it appears that learners do not have to progress through the syllabus in a progressive, certified manner in order to arrive at the stage where they can sit their test. They merely have to clock up the 12 hours of training and have these formally recorded by a recognised driving instructor.
This would seem to place an undue burden of responsibility on instructors, who will be under pressure from those taking lessons to approve their sitting of the test once the 12 hours have been completed – but who may well feel in some instances that the required level of competency has not yet been achieved. A spokesperson for the Irish Driving Instructors Association this week estimated that it would take 75 hours for a driver to complete the recommended syllabus of instruction satisfactorily.
When one adds to this discrepancy the variation in learning capacity that exists among individual aspirant drivers, there seems an obvious need for the new scheme to be amended, or at the very least monitored closely in its initial stages of operation and adjusted as instructors’ recommendations dictate. Hopefully such monitoring and amendment will be an ongoing part of an initiative that is admirable in its intent.
Some interesting proposals to improve safety on the roads of Co Monaghan were made at Tuesday’s meeting of the county’s Joint Policing Committee.
Garda Chief Superintendent Colm Rooney’s argument that the removal of trees and other physical obstacles from dangerous stretches of certain roads in the county would greatly reduce the chance of serious injury or fatality if accidents were to occur there is worthy of serious investigation.
It would certainly appear a very feasible and valuable exercise for the local authority, accessing information from the Gardai and from local communities as to where such potentially lethal obstacles are located, to draw up a programme for their eradication.
As the Chief Superintendent suggested, the cost of such an exercise would not be prohibitive. Even if our Co Council Road Areas are currently considerably short of the funding to meet all the road improvement representations made upon them, no responsible local public representative could argue against a portion of money being devoted towards such an important purpose.
Measures such as this, and the introduction of crash barriers at accident black spots which have also been found to be effective, are of course only mitigating the effects of reckless driving rather than addressing their root cause.
That does not detract from the life-saving contribution they can potentially make. But the vital long-term task, as several JPC members argued on Tuesday, is to accentuate the sense of responsibility that all users of Co Monaghan roads are required to discharge.
Sadly, there is among a section of car and motorcycle users in this county and elsewhere a perverse but deep-rooted culture of recklessness that celebrates speed and risk.
The extent to which this has taken hold in our midst was evidenced at Tuesday’s JPC forum when Clones public representative Pat Treanor referred to some extraordinary driving activities apparently taking place on a regular and highly organised basis along a Border road near his electoral area.
A jurisdictional lacuna is evidently being exploited by a group who effectively take over portion of a roadway along the Border to stage stunt driving demonstrations that attract a considerable audience of spectators.
It has come to this newspaper’s attention that the activities, and others like them, are regularly filmed and made available on social networking sites. It is not easy to understand the pleasure that people derive from participating in and watching this pursuit, although it is surely wrapped up in some juvenile sense of bravado and defiance of the law.
It is by contrast very easy to appreciate the sense of fear being experienced by local residents, and the considerable inconvenience caused to other motorists encountering this activity along what is a main access point to Co Cavan. Very appreciable too is the sense of frustration that Gardai in the area must endure when they are confronted by law-breaking activities taking place just beyond the sphere of their legal jurisdiction.
Some sort of joint Garda-PSNI operation would seem an appropriate response to the level of concern that has arisen on both sides of the Border in relation to this issue. The brazen nature of the activity would seem to make identification of its perpetrators relatively straightforward.
A successful concerted policing action would undoubtedly bring some relief to the people who have to live in the vicinity of this appalling behaviour – quite rightly branded “bully boy” in nature by Fine Gael councillor Hugh McElvaney. However, it would not eradicate the culture that gives birth to it.
Getting rid of the instinct that makes admirable the driving of motor vehicles at high speed and in ways that recklessly disregard safety is a very difficult one, for it is an instinct that is both explicitly and subliminally reinforced by very powerful and persuasive elements of our popular culture – video games, advertising, cinema and television – that exercise particular command over the young.
Education is one means of combating the influence. And very often the best, most impressive form of education is good example.
Improving the training requirements made on learner drivers might go part of the way, but the personal responsibility exercised by all motorists needs constant reinforcement and improvement if the loss of life on Irish roads is to be meaningfully curtailed.

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