The Foyle and District Road Safety Committee is celebrating its Golden Jubilee this week.
To mark the occasion, the Committee members and officers staged an informative seminar in the Belfray Country Inn on Thursday, at which many guests and speakers took part.
The official welcome was performed by the Mayor, Brenda Stevenson, herself a former member of the committee, and the Minister for the Environment, Mark H Durkan was also in attendance. Other guests who took part in the proceedings were the Deputy Principal of St Anne’s Primary School, Siobhan Gillen, noted Medical Director for the Western Health and Social Care Trust, Dr Alan McKinney, as well as Dr Nigel Ruddell, the Assistant Medical Director for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.
The seminar also heard from the Director of the Road Safety Council, Sam Fox and the Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Dale Ashford,as well as Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd.
One of the founder members of the Foyle and District Road Safety Committee, Albert Smallwoods, who chaired Thursday’s seminar, ended up in the committee almost by accident five decades ago. Having attended the first meeting of the organisation representing the St John Ambulance Brigade, he swiftly found himself on the newly constituted committee and stayed with the organisation ever since.
Recalling his early days, Mr Smallwoods said he had been standing in for another member of the St John Ambulance, Dr White, Head of Radiography in Altnagelvin, who had accepted to be a member, but could not attend as the inaugural meeting took place at 3.30pm in the afternoon.
“I went to the first three meetings and eventually he just said ‘Albert, I think you should just stay there’. That’s where I have been for the last 50 years,” said Albert.
Early meetings were held in the Council Chamber of the Guildhall and the chairman had to be the chairman of the Transport Committee, so the role was taken by Councillor Canning and the Town Clerk, Roy Henderson convened the first meeting. Because the secretary had to be a member of the staff of the Corporation, so Bob Manning was duly appointed to that role.
Albert recalled that the first meeting was quite short- probably three quarters of an hour and a Mr Sinfield, who was the ROSPA Northern Ireland Road Safety Officer, gave a talk about roads safety and pointers on what the committee might be able to do.
“It was very much a small agenda and most people there knew each other,” Albert recalled.
In the year the committee was formed there were 194 accidents on Northern Ireland’s roads - more than twice the number there were last year.
“The toll on the roads was rising and kept on rising in Northern Ireland until 1972, when there was 372 killed on the roads in Northern Ireland. If we look at 1970, 1971 and 1972 there was 943 people killed on Northern Ireland’s roads in that three-year period. So, it was important that something was done about it,” he said.
A large numbers of committees were formed in responses to the rising number of road deaths, and over the intervening years much good work has been done to reduce those statistics. Last year there were 79 road deaths and two years ago there were only 48 the lowest number since records began in 1931.
One of the key aspects of getting the roads safety message ‘out there’ is working with young people, Albert said, and as part of the seminar a short play was staged by the members of the Fresh Academy of Performing Arts, an inclusive theatre school for young people aged three to 18.
Asked where he thought the role of the Road Safety Committee lay in the coming years, Albert said accidents on the road were “a human problem” with 95 per cent of the cause of accidents down to the human element of road use.
“The future needs to be about people’s attitudes and to get them to show more care and consideration for other road users and more courtesy on the roads themselves,” he said.