Galway Cycling Campaign -Feachtas Rothaiochta na Gaillimhe

Child Pedestrian Deaths

An Irish "success" story.

Galway Cycling Campaign, March 2001,


What's the issue?

Overall, Ireland has the third highest fatality rate per vehicle of any country in the EU, we also have the third highest pedestrian death rate.  In the late 1990's Ireland also achieved the highest child pedestrian death rate in Western Europe.

Child Pedestrian Death Rate / 100,000 :1997 [1]

Country Children Age 1-14


Great Britain


























Causes: Inappropriate road designs

For decades Irish politicians, planners, property developers and traffic engineers have chosen to sacrifice public health and the common good to the twin goals of "traffic flow" and "capacity".  Galway is a University town with over 12,000 third level students, 10,000 school children and over 5,000 pensioners. According to the 1991 census, in Galway City 39% of permanent private households had no car, while for typical short urban journeys foot and bicycle use outweighed motor car use by a factor of almost two [2] .  Yet in common with other towns, the city's road network is typified by the use of inappropriate and hostile road designs.  Most residential streets are typified by the absence of any traffic calming.  Inherent problems include the use of inappropriate road layouts, inappropriate kerb radii and visibility parameters at junctions [3] .  Within the city, slip roads/acceleration lanes and merge tapers are used at inappropriate locations in direct conflict with available design guidance [4] , [5] .  Roundabouts of a hostile and inappropriate design are used at many locations despite an obvious conflict with the stated aims of successive city development plans.  It is arguable that using high capacity roundabouts in Irish towns like Galway shows at best incompetence and at worst a considered contempt for the most vulnerable residents. 

Causes: Town planning

Elsewhere in Europe, towns are planned on the basis of all road users with a hierarchical network of interconnected streets.   Ireland uses a car-centred approach with "cul de sac" based housing estates in which town planners and property developers have chosen to ignore the issue of safe, and convenient, access by vulnerable road users.  This has resulted in a situation in which children and other residents cannot avoid using main arterial roads for all trips, regardless of destination.  Typical is the Western Distributor road in Galway where planners have also chosen to make roundabouts of a hostile and inappropriate design the only means of access to urban housing estates.  In Ireland, children may have to travel incredible distances on main roads to reach schools that are actually only a few hundred yards from their own homes.   This situation is frequently made worse by the practice of siting new residential development miles from the schools and recreational facilities that are supposed to serve them. 

Causes: Failure to legislate

Irish legislators have declined to institute the standard European hierarchy of urban speed limits, which include limits of 10, 20 and 30 mph.    They have also declined to introduce "Home Zone" legislation.  Home Zones are pedestrian/cyclist priority residential areas in which cars must drive at walking speed and where motorists are automatically liable if they cause any injuries.  There are over 6,500 "Home Zone" schemes in place in the Netherlands [6] .  In many European towns "tempo 30" zones are used with an enforced speed limit of 20mph (30 kph).  These are applied on local roads and also around schools, colleges and shopping districts.  Up to 80% of urban streets in the UK might be suitable for the application of 20mph speed limits [7] .  A similar proportion is likely in Ireland.    In contrast to Ireland, the police and the local authorities of other northern European countries work to ensure that children have safe routes to school.   

Causes: Absence of enforcement, inappropriate enforcement. 

In Ireland, there is an apparent policy of non-enforcement of the speed regulations on urban roads.    According to the NRA 68% of motorists speed on residential roads, the average free speed of cars on main roads in 30mph zones is 45mph [8] .    At these speeds a pedestrian struck by a car has less than a one in ten chance of survival.    There is a general absence of speed traps, speed cameras and red light cameras in urban areas.    Although announced in 1998, the government has yet to implement a penalty points system.     Instead millions of pounds have been pumped into compulsory car testing although vehicle defects cause only 1% of fatality/injury accidents [9] .    Various authorities are pushing a compulsory seatbelt law despite a lack demonstrable benefits and widespread evidence of dire effects for those outside cars such as pedestrians, cyclists and moped users [10]

Causes: Media collusion and victim blaming

The print and broadcast media derive significant advertising income from the motor trade and property developers.    They return the favour by actively selling unfettered car culture and suburban sprawl as admirable and laudable indicators of "progress".    This message is sold in motoring and property supplements and in car centred "traffic" reports and "drive time" programmes.    The alternatives are played down while there is reason to believe that the negative effects are routinely suppressed.     Journalists will report on the issue of speeding on interurban roads but the wide spread law breaking in urban areas seems less newsworthy.    Although the official press statements may indeed admit the level of child deaths, the newspapers will neglect to refer to the issue.    When road safety campaigners speak out, the reporting journalists may censor out references to the level of child deaths or report this as a "claim".    When "safety campaigns" are announced they invariably focus on the behaviour of the children.    The importance of children "obeying the rules" and wearing the "right clothes" is emphasised in official leaflets and patronising articles from health/motoring journalists.    The fact that the rules are routinely ignored by the motorists who kill them seems irrelevant.                           


Galway Cycling Campaign, March 2001,

The Galway Cycling Campaign can be contacted c/o the One World Centre, The Halls, Quay St, Galway

[1] Source: Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone, The Government's road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets for 2010, UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, March 2000

[2] Census of Population 1991

[3] Irish Junction Design Practice, An Information Sheet, Galway Cycling Campaign, Feb 2001. 

[4] RT.  181 Geometric Design Guidelines (Intersections at Grade), National Roads Authority 1997

[5] Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, Vol.  6- Road Geometry, Section 2-Junctions, Part 6, TD 42/95 Geometric Design of Major/Minor Priority Junctions. 

[6] Home Zones Briefing Sheet, Robert Huxford, Proc.  Instn.  Civ.  Engrs.  Transp.  135, 45-46, Feb, 1999

[7] Briefing Sheet, Child pedestrian safety in the UK, by Robert Huxford, Institution of Civil Engineers , Jan.  1997

[8] RS 453 Free Speeds on Urban Roads, National Roads Authority, July 2000. 

[9] RS 433, Road Accident Facts 1996, National Roads Authority, 1997

[10] Seatbelt Laws, Why you should be worried, Galway Cycling Campaign, November 2000.