Government ignores lifesaving technology as road deaths rise

A satellite device which monitors cars around the country is a proven speeding deterrent, but the Department of Transport is not interested. By Malachy Browne

Despite the fact that 300 people have died on the roads this year and another eight young male drivers were killed on Irish roads last weekend – including five men in a single crash in Monaghan – the Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) continue to ignore a proven deterrent to speeding.

There is a device on the market that can measure a car's speed anywhere around the country and assess whether it is travelling within the speed limit. The speed-monitoring system is similar to commercially available satellite navigation systems and is used by O'Reilly Cullen Campion Insurances to offer "reduced insurance premiums to young [male] drivers who drive carefully and within the speed limits".

The device is called Tracksure and works by cross-referencing a vehicle's speed and location with a digital map of every road and speed limit in Ireland and can therefore establish if a car is speeding.

Subscribers to the policy observe over 99 per cent speed compliance and there has been no road fatality involving vehicles insured by the policy.

The RSA says that speed is "the single largest factor contributing to road deaths in Ireland" and responsible for over 40 per cent of fatal collisions. Young male drivers are 7.7 times more likely to be involved in a fatal or serious injury collision. An NRA study has found that the most common contributory factor to males involved in fatal two-vehicle collisions is that they have "exceeded safe speed".

Eddie Shaw, the former director of the National Safety Council (NSC), now the RSA, has said that road collisions are mainly attributable to the combination of driver inexperience with excessive speed and/or driver inebriation.

An additional consideration is that 80 per cent of fatal and injurious collisions occur on secondary roads, roads that by their very nature are difficult and hazardous to police. By detailing the movements of a car and whether it is travelling within the speed limit, Tracksure could also provide a safe alternative to mounted speed cameras and concealed patrol cars.

Two years ago, a spokesperson for the NRA cited "insufficient funding" for the organisation's reluctance to experiment with an "untried technology". But O'Reilly Cullen Campion Insurances have been using the technology for five years. Also, economist Peter Bacon estimates that the cost to the exchequer of every road death in Ireland is €1m That's €2.6bn this decade alone.

One of the reasons Eddie Shaw resigned from the NSC was because of their lack of commitment to road safety. When Shaw's successor, Gay Byrne, was appointed, Dermot Cullen of O'Reilly Cullen Insurances notified him of Traksure's impeccable safety record. Cullen received a standard acknowledgement that the technology was "interesting" and would be passed on to the Department of Transport, but there has been no follow-up by either body since.

The disinterest among official circles in satellite technology is further exemplified by last July's 'Fourth Interim Report on Reforms to the Irish Insurance Market – Road Safety', a 91-page document in which satellite technology earns a mere paragraph, the sole purpose of which is to place the onus of responsibility for satellite take-up on the insurance companies. 5

The report states that the RSA "might consider whether the use of this technology could reduce fatalities". However, a spokesperson for the RSA could not confirm that satellite technology would form part of the RSA's latest recommendations to Martin Cullen. Essentially, neither the RSA nor Martin Cullen have performed any detailed investigation into satellite technology to date. In fact, a spokesperson for CELtrak (the technology provider) told Village that they have attempted to pressurise the RSA and Martin Cullen to actively promote the use of satellite technology and are "extremely anxious for government to support this technology".

A submission from AXA Insurance in the above report explains that it is "no longer economical" for young drivers to subscribe to satellite technology. Meanwhile Ireland's record on road safety is still poor. Eddie Shaw estimated in 2005 that if Ireland was to be on a par with the rest of Europe, 20 people would be killed and 160 injured on the roads every month. From 2000 to 2005, Ireland had an average 32 road fatalities per month.