The Irish Times view on speeding penalties: Talking tough

A tougher approach to dangerous road behaviour is justified

The Road Safety Authority estimates that one-in-five crashes are caused by excessive speed, making it  the single biggest contributor to road deaths. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The Road Safety Authority estimates that one-in-five crashes are caused by excessive speed, making it the single biggest contributor to road deaths. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Irish drivers are changing their behaviour and paying greater attention to the rules of the road. There has been a 400 per cent reduction in the number of road deaths – from 640 to 158 – since 1972. This improvement in safety awareness was prompted by legislative change, tougher drink-driving laws and by greater policing presence on the roads. Minister for Transport Shane Ross is now proposing to introduce tougher speeding penalties.

The Road Safety Authority estimates that one in five crashes is caused by excessive speed, making that the single biggest contributor to road deaths. Such bare statistics carry little weight with drivers.

But when you drill down into the raw data, an unanswerable case can be made for a more aggressive response to speeding, particularly in urban areas and involving persistent offenders.

A dramatic increase in the number of pedestrian deaths this year has drawn attention to their particular vulnerability. If struck by a vehicle at 50km an hour in an urban speed zone, a pedestrian has a 50 per cent chance of being killed. This rises to 90 per cent if the driver is travelling at 60km an hour. Last year, slightly more than half of all cars in 50km zones broke this speed limit, compared to 82 per cent five years ago. That represents a welcome improvement in driver behaviour. But the incidence of speeding in towns and cities remains far too high, as well as on rural roads and motorways. Truck drivers are persistent offenders in all areas.

Ross hopes to introduce graduated penalties, based on the severity of speeding offences. He also appears determined to antagonise rural TDs who took exception to his recent drink driving legislation by cracking down on unaccompanied learner drivers and by penalising their parents, or others, who provided them with cars. A tougher approach to dangerous road behaviour is justified. However, given how little political capital Ross has left, and the fact that the Government is in its final stages, he is unlikely to be the Minister to introduce it.

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