Road safety and speed limits

A safer environment for all

Sir, – In an interesting debate on road safety, psychologist Dr Mick O’Connell (opposing the motion) refers to a study of the effect of 20m/ph (about 32.2 km/h) speed limits in Belfast which showed no statistically significant reduction in collisions, a point which the Queen’s University Belfast press office stressed when the study was released last November (“The Debate: Will lower speed limits reduce road deaths? A safety campaigner vs a psychologist”, Opinion & Analysis, September 26th).

Since then, Dr O’Connell is not the only person to use this study to argue against low urban speed limits.

However, the study also shows that there was no statistically significant change in traffic speeds: either there was negligible enforcement or congestion had already kept the speeds low.

Thus the study has absolutely nothing to say about the effect of reducing traffic speeds on safety. It’s a bit like a pharmaceutical experiment where the patients don’t take the pills and don’t get better.


The fact that a nominal change in limits, leading to no change in behaviour, results in no change in safety does however support the second point Dr O’Connell made, that limits in themselves do not matter, and it is enforcement that is required. – Yours, etc,


Department of Sociology,

University of Limerick.

Sir, – I found Monday’s debate to be very illuminating.

There was a lot of focus on driver behaviour; however, I feel the area of driver skill is constantly overlooked.

Drivers are effectively pilots. Whatever the mode of transport, pilot error can have fatal consequences. To address this risk, aircraft pilots receive constant skills-based assessments and training as equipment and systems evolve. Likewise, professional bus drivers receive ongoing skill-based (including safety) training.

Why, then, are private car owners, beyond sitting an initial test, not required to do periodic skills-based training? If cars over a certain age are required to undergo a National Car Test (NCT) then why don’t private drivers have to undergo a periodic “National Driver Test”? Why not build in an online training requirement at the time of licence renewal?

Car sizes have grown exponentially, and there’s now a prevalence of distracting mobile and in-car technologies. Drivers may have more in-car safety technology, but training needs to focus on the fact they are piloting new technologies that can seriously or fatally injure those in their external environment, especially vulnerable active travellers.

Technological advancements aside, basic skills need constant reinforcement (and enforcement) like indicating, how to proceed at traffic lights, and so on. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.

Sir, – On reading Mick O’Connell’s opinion piece about speed limits, this sentence in particular struck me, “On a near empty urban road at 10am on a Monday, what motorist will feel that a 30km/h limit is reasonable?” The assumption behind this sentence is presumably that by 10 am on a Monday everybody who matters will either be at work or at school or college so why would a driver need to slow to 30 km/h?

This assumption possibly derives from the unfortunate fact the CSO census questions on travel patterns only ask about trips to work, school and college, leading us to equate travel with commuting.

However, according to the recently published National Transport Authority National Household Travel Survey, social reasons account for 18 per cent of trips and shopping for 17 per cent. Combine that finding with the most recent census finding that the population over 65 has increased to 776,315 and it is clear that many people not in work or school may well be out and about on a Monday morning.

I count myself in that over 65 cohort. At 10 am on a Monday or any day I may be walking or cycling to a class, a meeting, a supermarket or a café. A 30 km/h speed limit would make my journey safer and more pleasant. But even if I drove instead of using active means the lower speed limit would still be beneficial. It would be easier to pull out of my driveway or at a junction if the oncoming traffic was travelling more slowly. On exiting my car it would be safer to cross the road as drivers would have more time to react to my presence. The 10am Monday driver will have ample opportunity to continue to travel at 50 km/h as the speed limit review is not proposing to reduce the limit on arterial roads. It is proposed to introduce a default 30 km/h limit in urban centres, residential roads and locations where there is a significant presence of vulnerable and active road users. These include older persons like me but also schoolchildren, parents out and about with buggies and people with disabilities.

As a pedestrian, cyclist and driver living in a built-up area, I endorse Mairead Forsythe’s of Love 30′s comments on the positive benefits of adopting 30 km/h speed limits. – Yours, etc,