The recent and appalling road traffic accident in Inishowen, County Donegal cost the lives of eight men and visited unspeakable tragedy on their families and local communities.
There have been great strides made by the Road Safety Authority and the Gardai in recent years to promote public awareness of road safety and to reduce road accidents. There has also been sustained Government investment in non-national roads. Donegal, for example, was allocated €25.8m by the Department of Transport in 2010 for local road maintenance and repair – the second largest allocation after County Cork.
However, a narrow focus on road investment and road safety is an entirely inadequate response to this horrendous disaster. As long as rural people have no transport options other than the private car they will be forced to live with its dangers. The reason that these road accidents generally happen on rural roads and not in cities and towns is not because urban people are by nature more careful or better educated; it is because they have other ways of getting around.
It is then somewhat surprising that in the Oireachtas and throughout local authority chambers in Ireland there are constant cries from rural deputies to loosen further restrictions on dispersed ‘one-off’ rural housing, even along national roads. Scattered settlement patterns entrench deep car dependency in rural communities and undermine all efforts to cost-effectively deliver a rural public transport alternative. Furthermore, each new ‘one-off’ rural house requires a new vehicular access onto a public road. An analysis of road accident data indicates that more than 40% (12,105 collisions) of all injury accidents reported on Irish roads over the period 2003-2007 occurred at junctions or involved turning movements onto/off roads. The fatalities in these accidents totalled 356, or 22.46% of overall road accident fatalities recorded during that period.
Rather than viewing a restriction on ‘one-off’ housing as representing an attack on rural Ireland, any elected representative with a real vision for a strong, vibrant and safe rural Ireland would see it as a compelling incentive and opportunity to promote the development of our historic network of traditional rural towns and villages which would provide rural communities with the option of availing of a public transport alternative and to save lives.