There is one legacy of the boom that will stand to us for a long time to come. Ireland now has a motorway network. We have over a 1,000 kilometres of newly-built top quality motorway, as good as anything in Europe and better than most.
It is not without its flaws. Perhaps the most obvious is that the network is peppered with tolls. This causes huge problems because traffic diverts away from them in droves. The AA has complained about this many times.
Tolls channel traffic off the motorways onto unsuitable secondary roads. Perhaps the clearest example of this is the M3. Build amid huge controversy, the road is being ignored to such an extent that the state is having to pay the toll operator compensation because so few cars are using it. This makes no sense at all.
Another problem is that all of the routes radiate to and from Dublin. The Tiger ran out of puff before the planned routes like the Western corridor were built.
But at least we have made major improvements to the network. Dublin to Galway is now a two hour cruise. Motorways are also, as I have noted before, much safer than lower grade roads even though traffic moves faster on them.
Sadly, though, we do not seem to know how to use them. The ‘keep left’ rule is most frequently ignored. There is no such thing as a ‘fast lane’ on a motorway. Drivers are supposed to stay left and use the right-hand or ‘outside’ lane for overtaking only.
If that is irritating, other behaviours are really dangerous. Collectively we have a habit of driving too close to the car in front and not adjusting our speed to the conditions. That becomes really scary when visibility is poor.
On foggy mornings there are locations like the M6 or M7 in the midlands that are prone to fog banks. We have already had some serious collisions, and indeed tragedies, that were basically caused by drivers going too fast. An accident happens and then there is a concertina effect as more and more cars pour onto the scene. Some of them stop in time and some don’t; this is the classic motorway ‘pile-up’.
The other key danger is on the hard shoulder. If your car breaks down you should never try to work on it in the hard shoulder. Limp your car to an exit if you can and don’t worry about and damage that you might be doing to it. The car is only a lump of metal, easily replaceable.
The hard shoulder is the place where you are most likely to be hurt. If you can, you should get out of the car and wait on the far side of the crash barrier until help arrives.
None of this is meant to terrify. Motorways work really well but they do have their own rules for good reasons.
We also do not have nearly enough service areas. If I am travelling from Dublin down the M9 to Waterford I will have to make sure that my tank is full and my bladder is empty before I set out because from the outskirts of the capital all the way to the banks of the Suir there isn’t a single place to stop.
Small wonder that running out of fuel is one of the most common reasons for the AA to be called out to a car on a motorway and that those call-outs are up by 10% this year.
But these are good problems. At least we have much better roads now, and at least they can’t be repossessed.