Council Wants Better Data on Road Traffic Collisions to Improve Safety of City Streets, but RSA Won’t Share

Nationally, serious injuries caused by road traffic collisions have increased over the last five years, suggests data published by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), a state agency that promotes road safety.

They went from 1,053 in 2017 to 1,343 in 2021, the data shows, with a dip for 2020 when people were travelling less because of Covid-triggered lockdowns.

There were 2.8 times the number of serious injuries – such as fractures, concussions, internal injuries, severe cuts or severe shocks – in 2021 than there had been a decade earlier in 2011, which at 472 was the lowest point in the last 20 years.

But despite the worrying trends, Dublin City Council officials and councillors say they are largely in the dark as to where the collisions leading to these serious injuries – and those less serious or fatal – are happening.

At a traffic and transport special policy committee meeting in November, Dublin City Council officials and councillors talked about asking the RSA, which has this data, to share the exact locations of serious injury collisions so that they could look at whether improvements to road infrastructure at these spots could prevent more of these injuries, or even fatalities.

“If you know where minor accidents are happening around the road network, you can examine how that road can be made safer,” said Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor.

The RSA used to share this data in an online map until 2016.

But a spokesperson for the RSA said in March that it has to review whether it can share this collision location data, in light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Europe-wide laws which restrict the sharing of personal data.

On 11 March, a spokesperson for the Road Safety Authority said that while no complaints were made to the RSA in relation to GDPR, collision data is sensitive. So there’s a need for an internal review, they said.

On 15 November, the RSA said there still wasn’t a definite date for completing that review.

Graham Doyle, deputy commissioner for the Data Protection Commission, said that GDPR shouldn’t prevent the publication of this data.

“The GDPR should not prevent the proportionate publication of crash location details, particularly where data is largely anonymised/limited in detail,” Doyle said on Tuesday.

A Pressing Need

Along D’Olier Street there are plenty of possible points of conflict between cyclists and buses, says Horner, the Green Party councillor.

She knows of someone who fractured their elbow, getting trapped between the buses, she says. “The bike went under, and was almost semi-pulled under the wheel.”

Injuries like these are occurring all over the city. But the council may only know anecdotally where they happen.

At a meeting of the council’s transport committee on 9 November, Brendan O’Brien, the council’s transport chief, said the council is looking for the location of collisions that caused serious injuries from the RSA.

“We’re not getting that in a timely fashion, there’s a real problem getting that,” he said.

Horner says the location of injuries data is important because it can signal areas where more people may be injured, or even killed. “The first and the best indicator of where a fatality will occur is where there has been a pattern of minor injuries,” she said.

Minor injuries can be life-changing and devastating, said Caroline Conroy, a Green Party councillor and Lord Mayor of Dublin, at the November transport committee meeting.

“People may be left in wheelchairs, left without a limb, ” she says.

It can have a massive impact on families too, or how people use transport going forward. “But that, it’s not actually calculated into any meaningful information that we use,” she said.

Using the data, the council could identify specific junctions and check whether they are up to the standard of the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS), says Horner.

DMURS outlines the road hierarchy of priorities, which says pedestrians should be treated as the most important user of the road, followed by cyclists, public transport, and finally private cars.

“You need an evidence base,” says Horner.

The RSA has a Vision Zero plan, meaning it is aiming for zero deaths on Irish roads by 2050.

Although serious injuries have increased over the past 5 years, fatalities over that same period have decreased but not by much. In 2017, there were 32 fatalities, and in 2021, there were 27.

Why Not?

“The RSA has a statutory remit to report on fatal, serious and minor injury collisions that have occurred on a public road,” said the RSA spokesperson in November.

It receives data on collisions from An Garda Síochána, they said, and uses the data to update its analysis of fatalities and annual statistics on collisions.

It shares aggregated data on road safety collisions, but Velma Burns, a research manager for the RSA, said in an Oireachtas joint committee on transport on 30 June.

“We do not have record-level information available. There are challenges associated with sharing that record-level data, in terms of GDPR,” she said.

The RSA spokesperson didn’t respond to queries sent Friday asking when its review began, how much longer the review is scheduled to take, and why it has taken this amount of time.

The council didn’t respond to queries sent Wednesday asking what exactly it would like to do with the data.

The RSA spokesperson said in November that it is providing local authorities with “a selection of key collision data variables”.

The council can contact the RSA to get a copy of a limited data set for their area, they said, without elaborating.

Decent Data?

It’s hard to get information from the RSA, said Colm Ryder, a representative from Dublin Cycling Campaign to the transport committee at the meeting.

“Why they happen, how they happen, how we can actually make things better in the future,” he said. “This is an area that we need, that the city council needs to get a grip on and to understand so we look at what we are doing in the future.”

Horner says it is possible that the RSA is unwilling to gather the data, if the true reason is not GDPR. “It’s a frustrating barrier to responding to road safety.”

However, it is still imperfect data, says Mike McKillen, a volunteer for Cyclist.ie, which represents cyclists in Ireland.

The RSA gets its data from An Garda Síochána. But they don’t have data from every injury, McKillen says, only the ones that they recorded at the scene of the collision. Emergency departments in hospitals would have more data, he says.

There isn’t any legislation requiring emergency departments to report any serious injuries from road collisions to Gardaí, he says, but there should be.

“We have called for this at meetings with RSA and Garda, but they cite GDPR issues,” says McKillen.

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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