Ireland’s lethal complacency on the roads – urgent wake-up call is needed


For years, we in Ireland had been marching forward in the battle against road deaths. It seemed we were on the right track, turning the tide on drink-driving through successful road safety campaigns. To many of us, including myself, the thought of driving after a few drinks was alien. In my home town of Strokestown, a few pints meant a walk home or a call to a trusted hackney. Driving wasn’t an option. But today, something is amiss on Ireland’s roads – there appears to have been a dangerous shift in mentality, especially among the younger and older generations.

The statistics

The latest figures from An Garda Síochána are a cold splash of reality. In 2023, until December 27th, we witnessed 181 fatalities on our roads, a grim increase from 154 in 2022 and 140 in 2019. This isn’t just about numbers; it’s about lives lost and families devastated. And folks, the numbers are heading in the wrong direction. The opening days of 2024 have been stark too in terms of fatalities on our roads.

As a nation, we seem to have regressed, and been lulled into a dangerous complacency. The ‘It won’t happen to me’ attitude is back with a vengeance. Some younger and, indeed older drivers, perhaps feeling invincible, are pushing the limits, treating drink-driving laws as mere suggestions. This mentality, coupled with a growing trend of drug-driving, is a ticking time bomb on our roads. In the most literal sense of the phrase.

The stats are clear: most fatalities occur on rural roads, at night, and involve young men. This isn’t about pointing fingers, but acknowledging a worrying pattern. The idea of ‘nursing it home’ after a few drinks might seem harmless until it isn’t. The risks are real, and the consequences are often fatal. And let’s not forget drug-driving – an unspoken scourge that flows as freely as the drinks in our bars and clubs.

I’m not here to preach or claim moral superiority. I, too, have made my fair share of youthful mistakes, but driving under the influence was never one of them. The truth is, when inebriated, our decision-making faculties falter, risks seem trivial, and the potential for disaster skyrockets.

It’s time for a collective introspection. If 2024 is to be the year we tackle this issue head-on, we must start by addressing the prevailing attitudes towards drink and drug driving. This isn’t just about the individual – although it begins with accepting the personal responsibility associated with the actions we take or fail to take – it’s a societal issue that demands a societal response.

The human cost

Let’s consider the human cost – not just the fatalities, but the survivors, the families left to pick up the pieces. The trauma of road accidents, minor or major, leaves lasting scars. And for what? A momentary lapse in judgment? The convenience of avoiding a taxi fare?

The language around road incidents has evolved from ‘accidents’ to ‘collisions’ for a reason. It’s about responsibility. This isn’t, in and of itself, about total sobriety – though one could argue for it – but about using a shred of common sense. The question we must ask ourselves before getting behind the wheel is, ‘Is it worth the risk?’. It never is.

In rural Ireland, the challenges are unique, but they’re not insurmountable. The absence of taxis isn’t an excuse for risking lives. Friends, family, community – they’re our safety net. This isn’t about harming the local pub culture; it’s about safeguarding our community. The advent of zero alcohol products which take the form of their alcohol-enriched counterparts has made it easier for those who want to socialise without the risk on the road and the inevitable hangover that will be induced by overconsumption, to go out and patronise a pub without the associated inebriation. And, for the most part, it masks any stigma associated with being the ‘designated driver’ on the pint of water along with the pioneers – not that there isn’t virtue in selected sobriety.

Sure, one might argue that drink-driving laws and their enforcement have perhaps over-corrected. But the intent behind these laws is clear: to save lives. If the worst-case scenario you can imagine is a checkpoint arrest, it’s time to recalibrate your perspective. The real worst-case scenario is far grimmer – it involves the loss of life, your own – or someone else’s.


This year, let’s challenge ourselves to make smarter choices. Let’s not rely on luck or test our guardian angels’ speed. The nuances of this debate are many, but the underlying truth is simple: human error, often exacerbated by alcohol or drugs, is a significant factor in road collisions. And while sober drivers aren’t immune to mistakes, the risks multiply under the influence.

In conclusion, as we navigate our way into and through 2024, let’s strive for a safer, more responsible approach to road safety. It’s about individual responsibility, yes, but also about a collective commitment to change. Let’s not be another statistic, another heartbreaking story. Instead, let’s be the generation that redefines road safety, not through laws alone but through a fundamental shift in our attitudes and behaviours. Because in the end, the life you save could be your own and the sentence you would carry for being the cause of taking another life and surviving yourself, well… it’s a life sentence, one you will bear long after the courts have had their way with you.