Donegal car culture in a Summer of road deaths. 

Ronan Kelly visited Donegal in mid-July to talk to drivers about their use of cars and to understand why the county is near the top of the tables for road deaths.He spoke to those who refuse to wear their seatbelts – because they’re uncomfortable, because they feel they’re not driving fast enough to need them or one taxi-driver who leaves it off so he can get out of the car quickly to chase fare evaders.

Kelly talks to young people who socialise in their cars in Letterkenny – one man who drives around the town from 6pm until 6am on a weekend night seeing who’s about.   He meets young farmers, too young to drive, who bring their tractors into town “to impress women”.

He spoke to drinkers outside a pub who said they used designated drivers but one man said his designated driver had drunk 4 or 5 drinks already but they weren’t worried because they were going home by quiet backroads.  This man lived in Sweden where he said you’d never get away with drink-driving.

Then, a few days after recording these interviews, there were five deaths on the roads near Letterkenny.  Four of those who died weren’t wearing seatbelts.  So, Kelly went back the following weekend.  He spoke to a truck-driver who came across one of the incidents and the three dead bodies there.   He also met the priest preparing his sermon for the funerals.

He met  again with those young people for whom their cars are so important and asked if the deaths in the previous days would affect their driving.    Most said ‘no’ because they said they were safe drivers anyway.One man told him that he had had an accident 4 years previously: “Going around the corner, 125 mph.  Hit 8 steel pillars, 2 ESB poles and wall.” He wanted, he said, “To get a picture to see what the car could do.  And that’s what she could do – 125.” He doesn’t normally wear a seatbelt but that night he did. “That night, if I didn’t have it on, I was dead.”While he was being interviewed he was wearing also a seatbelt but only because he’d just seen a Garda car cruising by.

The title of the documentary comes from a comment by the Road Safety Officer of Donegal County Council, Brian O’Donnell,  “When we step into a car – we decide who lives or dies.” 

Narrated and produced by Ronan Kelly

First Broadcast 1pm, Saturday, August 20th, 2016

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.