Minister Dempsey, Mr. Henry Murdoch Chair of the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dr. Gay Byrne Chair of the Road Safety Authority, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Major General Dave Ashe, Acting Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces agus a chairde, Dia dhíbh ar maidin.
I am grateful to Noel Brett for inviting me to this launch of the 2009 Christmas Road Safety Campaign. In fact the entire country should be grateful to the Road Safety Authority for the campaign and to the National Rehabilitation Hospital for hosting its launch. Next to the cold graveyards that hold the bodies of those killed on our roads, this place knows more than any other about the broken bodies, the shattered lives that result from the simplest and ordinary of journeys to and from home, to and from work, to and from school, to and from the pub, the shop, the airport… Too many of those journeys have ended either gathered around graves in that convulsive grief that lasts a lifetime, or here battling through pain and disability to rebuild lives that were once so full of health and happiness. Four lovely young women in love with life and its possibilities were killed only last week bringing an avalanche of grief to their families, to their friends and university colleagues, to their communities and to every one of us who has a twenty-something son or daughter who heads off in a car each day with a cheery wave and no expectation of death.
This campaign is about bringing people safely home. It is about educating all of us to the dangers, the risks, that lurk in this most common of activities going out and about from A to B, using our roads that are there to be used, but used cautiously, conscious that the choices we make can bring us and others safely home or they can take us to early graves, to appalling disability or illness and a lifetime of loss, regret and sorrow.
Last year saw the lowest number of fatalities recorded on our roads in the sixty years of recording this tragic toll. That means people are listening, learning, adapting, being more careful, considerate and responsible than ever before and we thank all of those road users, particularly drivers, whose changes in behaviour over the last number of years has helped to save lives. Those reductions are very welcome and very reassuring but they are still not enough for in these weeks leading up to Christmas at any moment someone's child, parent, brother, sister, partner, friend may be involved in an accident that will bring them crushed and devastated to this place or dead and beyond help to their graves. There is no acceptable level of death or injury on our roads except zero.
Here in this Hospital, staff know what those words road traffic injury mean. Here they tackle the brain injuries, the amputations, the spinal damage that are unpacked from those simple words. They do amazing work, quietly unnoticed except by those whose lives they painstakingly help to rebuild. They are due our thanks but also we need to listen to them for although this work is their vocation, their passion, they would so prefer if the wards here held no pedestrians, cyclists, drivers or passengers. No-one has to drive while under the influence of drink or drugs. It is a personal choice, selfish, dangerous, inexcusable and downright bad. No-one has to drive without a seat belt, or with bald or underpressured tyres. No-one has to speed, no-one has to answer the mobile phone while driving, or check their lipstick or root around for a new CD or light up a cigarette. Driving requires total concentration, free from distractions we create, for we need to be ready at all times for the distraction and risks that others are getting ready to inflict on us whether we like it or not. The cyclist travelling in the evening without lights or running the red, the driver who is careless about indicating, the pedestrian walking a country road at night in dark clothing are all people who have made stupid, life threatening and utterly avoidable bad choices.
The majority of road users make good responsible choices. They take good care on the road and even when they do their absolute best they may well run into someone doing his or her worst or inadequate best. The old Irish proverb 'ar scath a cheile a mhaireann na daoine' was never truer than when applied to using our roads. We rely on each other to be careful about the safety of all road users around us. More than that, the law obliges us to exercise that care every time we use the roads, not just when it suits us. The message from this campaign is to be looking out for one another with a renewed determination and commitment this Christmas. Arrange the car pools, pre-book the taxis, nominate designated drivers, offer the elderly isolated neighbour a lift, don't pressure any driver to take a drink, don't drive when you are exhausted, wear the seat-belts and the high visibility clothes, slow down, listen to the weather forecasts, notice the dangers, read the signs, stay focussed.
The professionals involved in road safety need our fullest cooperation to stamp out road abuse and I want to thank all who make road safety their priority - Government Departments, the Road Safety Authority, An Garda Síochána, the National Roads Authority, the local authorities, road safety organizations and institutions, the schools that try to inculcate a culture of care into our young, the parents who actively show their children how to be responsible, the health professionals, carers and injured who educate us about the devastating consequences of road abuse.
We can give each other the gift of a safe Christmas or the endless misery of a Christmas ruined by a road crash. We all know what to do, so let's just do it. Thanks to those who are doing their best to keep Christmas and every other day happy and safe on our roads. I wish you all a very safe and peaceful Christmas and New Year. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.