Whilst not seeking in any way to diminish the heartbreak of the families and friends of the 161 people who died tragically on our roads in 2012, there is no denying that there has been a dramatic improvement in the number of deaths due to traffic accidents. As recently as 2001, fatalities were well in excess of 400. In 1999, they were nearer 500.
There was a drop of roughly 15% between 2011 and 2012. Plugging these figures into the statistics in the table shown in Source 1 indicates that under the category of "Road fatalities per 100,000 Vehicles", Ireland might be safer than anywhere apart from Malta and Iceland. Of course, we'd need to see if countries such as Germany, the UK, Netherlands and Sweden experience a similar sharp fall in 2012 before we can say that for sure.
The same applies for the "Road fatalities per 1 billion vehicle-km" category, the 2011-12 improvement would make Ireland the safest country in the world after Iceland. However, the number of countries not reporting figures under this category means we can't rely too heavily on them.
All in all, the number of lives saved relative to the 1999 figures and since that year amount to the population of a small Irish town. That's a lot of tears and mourning that has, thankfully, been avoided.
1. List of countries by traffic-related death rate
2. 161 people died on the roads in 2012 - RTÉ News