Donegal Democrat

I was damn near killed last Sunday. Outside Virginia in Cavan, the car in front suddenly pulled into the side, and in front of it, coming at us at high speed was a genius on the wrong side of the road. Our car almost ended up in a ditch swerving to avoid the nut, who was in a new motor, on a nice big road.

What kind of idiot feels it worth risking lives just because he was behind someone and needed to overtake? Would it really hurt that much to arrive five minutes later on a Sunday evening?

Anyway, the experience made me a bit more sensitive, so I started checking the daily emails I receive from RTÉ with a summary of the day’s news. I’m writing this on Tuesday, September 3. In the last seven days, here’s what happened in Ireland.

Tuesday August 27
Man killed in County Meath car accident

Wednesday August 28
Three killed in two separate road accidents

Thursday 29 August
Man killed in Co Antrim road accident

Saturday August 31
Teenager killed in Co Armagh hit-and-run
Gardaí seek witnesses to Co Tipperary hit-and-run
Man killed in Co Mayo road accident
Motorcyclist killed in Co Carlow crash

Sunday September 1
43-year-old motorist dies in M50 traffic accident

Monday September 2
Pedestrian killed in County Meath

Tuesday September 3
Two killed in separate road accidents

One week. Twelve deaths. RTÉ hardly even bothers reporting the non-fatal accidents any more, and who knows how many near misses there were, like the one I described earlier, that didn’t even get reported.

I was telling someone about my near miss, and he said it was inevitable because of the small Irish roads. It is not inevitable. Irish roads aren’t dangerous because they’re tiny. Irish drivers are dangerous because they’re idiots.

Car accidents have become like the North used to be. When I was growing up, the North was like an inevitable background noise. You switched on RTÉ and there was the News, the weather, and the North. There was a depression over the Atlantic and cold fronts were approaching Ireland from the Southwest, and some poor kid was shot in Ardoyne, or there was a funeral somewhere, or a former member of the RUC reserve was killed while delivering milk.

Road deaths are like that. More people are dying on our roads than were dying in the North ten years ago. Why do I feel not a fraction of the effort is being put into stopping the slaughter? When Omagh happened, the two Governments passed punitive laws within days to track down those responsible. But the penalty points system, promised in the 1997 manifesto, still hasn’t seen the light of day.

TDs even make representations to the Minister for Justice to get their constituents off after they’ve been convicted and lost their licenses.

Around 400 people will be killed on Irish roads this year. That’s near enough the population of Pettigo. Every year, a small Irish town is wiped out. Few of them show up as “headline crimes” in the Garda statistics.

None of those responsible will be charged with murder. If the year 2000 Garda statistics are anything to go by, there’ll be about a dozen manslaughter charges, and two-dozen charges of ‘dangerous driving causing death’. More people will be charged with stealing bicycles.

It is well past time we started treating dangerous driving as the deadly crime it is.

* Footnote Since this article was written, the Government have begun to introduce the ‘penalty points’ system