Four Latvians and a Lithuanian died after the two cars they were traveling in collided near Buncrana on the Inishowen peninsula, early on Saturday morning. Four of those who died were in a Volkswagen that struck an Audi.
The driver of the Volkswagen, Ricardas Bielskis, who was 34, and from Lithuania, died at the scene. His passengers, 18-year-old Ginta Veite, her 38-year-old mother Aija Porcika and Marita Kerpe all died shortly afterwards. The driver of the Audi, 23-year-old Danielitis Abartis, also died at the scene.
While the cause of the accident is unclear, its horrific nature and the fact that foreign-nationals were traveling in both cars has raised fears among road safety campaigners that immigrant drivers are now increasingly likely to be killed on Irish roads.
Ireland’s top road safety chief last month predicted that up to 25 percent of the people who will be killed in road accidents this year could be immigrants. Alan Richardson, the National Safety Council’s (NSC) acting chief executive said that, in many cases, people from Eastern Europe had imported a drink-driving “culture” into Ireland.
He said that many immigrants from that part of Europe were “used to a hard-drinking culture” and that they “drink and drive over here [Ireland].”
His comments coincided with the launch of a new leafleting campaign aimed at Polish, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese and French speakers warning them about the dangers of drink driving.
Richardson said that many drivers who drove drunk tended to veer onto the wrong side of Irish roads — the side of the road they would have been used to in their country of origin.
He also pointed out that the driving licensing systems in many eastern European countries falls well below the standards demanded by the Irish driving test.
Richardson said many immigrants also import their own cars into the country — cars which were not subjected to the exacting safety checks of the National Car Test (NCT). The fact that practically all these vehicles are left-hand drive, unlike the Irish right-hand side system, was also potentially dangerous.
“There is a tendency of going across to the wrong side of the road when they are spooked by a sudden fright,” he said.
Many of those who move to Ireland choose to take their cars with them as the cost of buying and registering a car in Ireland remains relatively expensive. As a result, their cars are not required to go through the NCT.
Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, has promised to crack down on the usage of cars that are not registered in the state. The gardai are to soon receive powers that would enable them to impound foreign cars after a specified period.
Almost 400 people died on Irish roads last year — a figure that safety campaigners fear could increase in 2006, particularly given the rise in recent months of accidents involving foreign nationals.