Positive motorist behaviour is evidently being brought about given the reduction in Irish road deaths during 2008 – 279, the lowest figure since records began.

But more work is needed to encourage even greater conduct behind the wheel for this year and beyond according to the Chief Executive of the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

Noel Brett was reacting to the publication of AXA’s European survey of road user behaviour, which noted the improvement in the Irish statistics.

“The highlight of this survey for me is that more Irish drivers feel safer on our roads today,” said Mr Brett. “More are [also] reporting positive improvements in their driving behaviour.”

“A particular source of encouragement is how favourable the reported attitudes and behaviour of Irish drivers compares with the eight other EU countries surveyed.”

Those surveyed in Ireland and Portugal emerged as the most aware Europeans when it came to re-iterating the notion that “preventing road collisions is very important for society”.

While that figure came to 85 per cent, the fact that some 15 per cent appear to think such collisions aren’t important seems odd, to put it mildly.

Over half of Irish respondents (54 per cent) would like to see stricter enforcement of traffic offences compared to the EU average of 37 per cent.

“Irish motorists topped the table in the EU at 92 per cent in their attitude to the dangerousness of drink driving compared to an EU average of 78 per cent,” said the RSA Chief.

“Road safety campaigns have played a significant role in positively influencing driver behaviour in Ireland,” he continued.

“In fact on the basis of this research Irish road safety campaigns have been the most effective, among EU countries surveyed, in changing road user behaviour.

“Twice as many Irish drivers (29 per cent) surveyed by AXA admitted to answering the phone without a hands-free kit compared to 14 per cent of UK drivers.”

While matters had undoubtedly improved, Noel Brett said that there was no room for complacency.

“We must keep repeating life saving messages to ensure road safety is something we think about and act on every day,” he said.

“The current Government Road Safety Strategy will save a minimum of 400 lives if implemented in full and on time.

“AXA’s survey validates the approach that Government has taken and the biggest challenge we now face is to consolidate the reductions in deaths and injuries to date, maintain the support of the public and avoid complacency. Any reduction in effort and commitment will very quickly lead to an increase in death and injury rates.

“This survey illustrates just how much Irish road users have changed their attitudes and taken personal responsibility. Their personal actions have saved lives and for that they deserve the credit.”