New rural speed sign shows challenge of 90,000km network

Varadkar says too many motorists treat speed limit as a target rather than maximum

File photograph of a national speed limit sign in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

File photograph of a national speed limit sign in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire


The introduction of a new rural speed limit sign is a tacit acceptance of the difficulties associated with trying to audit limits across the State’s 90,000kms of regional and local roads.

Ireland has more kilometres of roads per hectare than any other country in Europe.

The scale of the network means the 80kmh limit had become a default limit on rural roads, regardless of whether it was appropriate.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said in too many cases motorists treat a speed limit as a target, rather than the maximum at which it is appropriate to travel if weather and other factors allow.

Replacing the 80kmh signs because they send out the wrong message has an element of optics about it when the “legal” limit on these roads remains 80kmh.

It will be interesting to see if these new signs satiate motorists’s calls for saner limits.

The change also seeks to shift much of the responsibility for driving at an appropriate speed on local and regional roads onto the motorist when all the evidence suggests enforcement is the most successful method of ensuring compliance.

There is also an element of trying to address an issue which has yet to be quantified. Those involved in the speed limit review group did not look at any actual speed limits to determine what proportion were appropriate.

The Road Safety Strategy (2007 to 2012) called for a review of speed limits by 2009. The reason was to increase public acceptance of limits and the additional enforcement that would come following the introduction of privatised speed cameras in 2010.

Responsibility for this review rested with the department.

Given that the review is already four years late, it begs the question why some analysis of the appropriateness of current limits was not carried out, prior to publication.

The plan envisages all speed limits being reviewed by local authorities over the coming two years. It is a significant task.

Conor Faughnan from AA Ireland said “absurd speed limits” created a culture where drivers start to ignore limits. “We have to correct those [absurd]limits and create a system people can buy into”, he said today.

It is also unclear how drivers will be informed that speed limits on the route they are travelling have been reviewed and are appropriate.

One of the main causes of speed limit inconsistency is the multiplicity of agencies involved in setting them, namely local authorities who determine limits on all roads in their area.

Mr Varadkar does not propose to change this, in part because of the practicalities of setting limits by dictat from a single agency, but also becausehe said a change to centralise such local functions would be contrary to Government policy.

It will be interesting to see how the new appeals structure copes with the disputed limits that will shortly be coming its way.

For anyone hoping the appeals process will provide the basis of a challenge to a speeding ticket: bad news.

The legal speed limit will be the one in place at the time of an offence, regardless of absurdity.

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