New M50 speed limits cannot be enforced, warns transport group

Variable speed limits being introduced to improve traffic flow not backed by legislation

Compliance with new variable speed limits on the M50 will be voluntary because legislation to provide for them has not been enacted.

Variable speed limits are being introduced later this year on what was – before the coronavirus pandemic – the State’s busiest route in a bid to improve traffic flow and allow enhanced traffic management following a collision or during bad weather.

They will allow the M50 operator to adjust speed limits on sections of the route in a bid to ensure smooth traffic flow.

However, in a letter, Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) told the Department of Transport that failure to enact the necessary legislation would mean "the enforcement of speed limits will not be possible and the principal benefits of the scheme in terms of road safety and journey time reliability" will not be achieved.


The required legislation will give TII the power to set speed limits.

TII is installing a range of monitoring systems, including automatic number-plate recognition systems, traffic cameras and average-speed cameras, along the M50 that will mean every part of the orbital route will be available on camera.

In total it expects to have 76 cameras on the route, a small proportion of which will be “dummies”.

No action

This means that when speeding and other offences are detected on the M50 by these cameras, the lack of legislation means no action can be taken.

'No driver has been prosecuted for breaching lane control signals' in any of the three road tunnels in the State

TII has also raised concern over the failure by the department to sign into law powers that would allow it the ability to control traffic in individual lanes using lane control signals.

This is viewed by TII as potentially more important from a traffic management point of view as it allows a swift traffic management response following a collision.

However, the legal powers to allow for the prosecution of drivers who ignore lane controls has not been enacted.

As TII notes in its letter, at the time of writing “no driver has been prosecuted for breaching lane control signals” in any of the three road tunnels in the State.

There is also a warning from TII about the impact of a rise in speeding prosecutions once the legislation underpinning variable limits is in place.

“Full enforcement of variable speed limit offences would have the potential to create significant difficulties due to the volume of traffic on the M50 and the large number of drivers who might be expected to violate” these limits.

Additional workload

TII notes that there is no capacity within the courts service to deal with the likely increase in summonses following enforcement of variable speed limits, and enforcement of variable limits would also create a significant additional workload for gardaí.

Powers to enforce variable speed limits formed part of a proposed new Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which included new penalties for speeding.

While this Bill was approved by the Cabinet, it was not passed by the Dáil before the general election.

A combination of ongoing government-formation talks, the summer recess and the fact that Fianna Fáil has said it will not progress the speeding penalties proposal means the Bill is likely to be revised or redrawn, with the result that the legislation for variable limits is not expected before 2021 at the earliest.

David Labanyi

David Labanyi

David Labanyi is Deputy News Editor and Breaking News Editor of The Irish Times