A DROMARA man whose brother was recently killed in a road accident has appealed to local residents to get involved in a newly launched consultation on plans for a 10-year road safety strategy.
The call comes against a backdrop of figures showing a significant percentage of road deaths and serious injuries occurring in rural areas.
Paul Stewart's brother Stephen, a Dromara farmer, died on January 30 in an early-morning tractor accident on the Banbridge Road, just yards from his home.
Son of Desmond and Rhoda Stewart and father of Emily (5), Mr. Stewart was the fifth person to die on Northern Ireland's roads this year.
Among the first to pass on his condolences to the close-knit Stewart family was Lagan Valley MLA and Stormont Environment Minister Edwin Poots, who called the 37 year-old's death a great tragedy for the whole community.
Now, Mr. Poots - for whom Paul Stewart works as a personal assistant in the DUP's Dromore and Lisburn offices - is encouraging people to share their ideas on roads safety as part of consultation on developing a Road Safety Strategy for the next decade.
The aim of the new strategy, he said, was to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads significantly, and he insisted everyone in Northern Ireland had a responsibility to help make its roads safer.
"The consultation I am launching proposes over 170 new measures for improving road safety in Northern Ireland," he said. "It also includes new targets to reduce deaths and serious injuries which are more challenging than those in the current strategy.
"This is because the reductions we are aiming for are higher and we are starting also from lower baselines."
Mr. Stewart backed the minister's appeal.
"I urge you," he told local road-users, "to get involved in this consultation and help us to shape the way ahead."
The Minister added that while the number of casualties on the roads was declining, some groups were disproportionately involved in fatal and serious collisions.
"Our figures show that a significant percentage of road deaths and serious injuries occur in rural areas," he said, "with many young adults involved in serious collisions.
"Improvement is also necessary to reduce injuries to older pedestrians and motorcyclists and to deal with the increased risks faced by children in areas of deprivation. To be effective a new strategy must tackle these issues.
"It is my hope that together we can develop a framework that will allow us to continue to progress and will help make a journey on our roads as safe as anywhere in the world. I want to hear your views on this document. Do not hesitate to come forward. Your ideas are important."