The Irish Times view on traffic cameras: a useful tool to improve driver behaviour

There is no doubt more gardaí are required but the new systems offer an opportunity to reinforce their impact

The recent disturbing surge in road fatalities has given rise to widespread concern and debate. The causes of the increase are complex, and a multi-faceted response is required. Additional resources were announced this week for driver information campaigns, while Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has accepted the force needs to allocate greater resources to traffic policing.

Two rather more controversial initiatives which are due in the coming year could also prove significant. The introduction of lower speed limits across the country will irritate some drivers. But the evidence is incontrovertible that lower speeds decrease the number of crashes and reduce the likelihood of death or serious injury.

One criticism of lower speed limits is that without adequate enforcement they will be widely ignored. The second initiative may offer a solution. Cameras to record the registration plates of vehicles which are driven illegally through red lights or along bus lanes are set to be introduced in Dublin by the beginning of next year before being installed across the country. The current limited network of fixed speed cameras along motorways and national routes will also be extended. The cameras, which will also be able to identify phone use and failure to wear seatbelts, connect to an automated system which issues penalties and fines to those responsible.

The system was trialled some years ago at one of Dublin’s worst crash blackspots, the junction between the Luas Red Line and Blackhall Place. The results were startling, with hundreds of incidents of illegal driving recorded within a short time. What was most noteworthy was the fact that, over the course of the six-month trial, the number of drivers breaking the red light declined dramatically. The lesson is clear. These systems alter driver behaviour for the better.


While some may decry this technology as Orwellian, it offers a partial solution to the challenge of diverting sufficient manpower to police the roads against the backdrop of a growing population. Minister of State at the Department of Transport Jack Chambers has acknowledged that enforcement levels have “collapsed”, and there is no doubt that more gardaí are required, but the new systems offer an opportunity to reinforce their impact. Citizens now enjoy robust data protection rights which should help to mitigate fears of surveillance overreach by State agencies.

In addition to the life-saving potential of the new cameras, they can also make a contribution to the long-term project of rebalancing the relationship between different road users. For too long, that has been skewed in favour of private motorists at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users. That is neither desirable nor sustainable. Driver behaviour will have to change to reflect that fact.