Traffic safety in Ireland and Illinois

December 8th, 2004 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

A question that came up in conversation with friends recently was the question of road deaths. Specifically, how does Ireland compare to Illinois? Well, it took a full 10 minutes of googling, but I now have an answer.

Ireland had 336 road deaths in 2003, though 2004 figures are already at 354 (the Garda site has an impressively detailed set of figures, updated daily, for such a morbid topic). The easily available Garda figures probably help explain the standard news story every Monday morning listing the statistics for the year to date.

Illinois, with a population about 3 times that of Ireland had had 1,420 road deaths in 2003. The raw figures, therefore, show Illinois to be more dangerous, with around 40% more deaths per head of population. I suspect that if one looks at fatalities per million miles driven things may change, with Illinois closing in on Ireland, or perhaps even surpasing it. Google does not readily return statistics for the number of miles driven, though it does return an interesting paper looking at the relationship between miles driven and fatalities – which seems to show that deaths per million miles travelled often drop at the same rate that miles travelled per head of population increase. An interesting fact if widely applicable.

One final note – I mentioned the at-least-weekly reports on Irish radio of number of accidents to date, compared against the previous year. I find it interesting that I don’t hear similar stories on US radio (and that the figures aren’t easily available online). Indeed, in the US the sole focus seems to be on deaths from drunk driving, despite the fact that in 2003 (exactly) 65% of road deaths in Illinois were not drink related. That is, two-thirds of road deaths are ignored by an exclusive focus on drunk driving. Now, obviously drunk driving is an individually controllable behaviour and any attempt to prevent/reduce it is commendable. As I look at the statistics, however, I am drawn to wonder, however, whether the framing of road deaths wholly in terms of individually criminal actions serves to absolve society of any need to examine its overall relationship with driving and the car culture.

Incidentally, I can’t find figures for the proportion of deaths in Ireland caused by alcohol. However, it is interesting to note that Garda guidelines while stressing the need to avoid drunk driving, list safe speeds first – a topic omitted in Jesse White’s advice to Illinois drivers.

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