Ireland rolled out a key element of its new road safety campaign this week, and, as expected, there was huge interest where the Gardai's new mobile traffic cameras (think emissions ), operated by private contractors, were to be posted - so much so the Garda website crashed several times.
The interest is sparked by a guilty population - is there a saint who has never exceeded a designated speed limit? Figures suggest that 90 per cent of all licensed drivers speed at some point in their driving careers (there are no such fines for slow drivers who also cause traffic chaos ), while 75 per cent admit a regular speeding offence. And like many life experiences, unless a person has been affected by an accident as a result of speeding, it is human nature to ignore, disbelieve, and say "it won't happen to me".
The issue of speed cameras has always sparked controversy - hated by motorists who see them simply as a revenue raising exercise. Others believe it is not speeding, but the roads - "look at the Germans" is their cry, how many dead Germans do you see on the autobahns? People also point the finger at the "boy racers" who, they claim, will know within 30 minutes where a speed camera is situated and find an alternative venue for their hi-jinks. In England several counties have switched off their cameras - more as a cost-saving exercise - sparking outrage among local communities, particularly in built-up areas. Yet stationary cameras, frequently sign-posted in advance, are known to reduce speeding in accident black-spot areas. In those cases drivers become aware and then over time become used to slowing down in certain areas.
Galway County Independent councillor Seán Canney said this week more needs to be done to eliminate the dangers and to change speed limits in many areas of the county. It is that holistic approach that deserves consideration. Driving on a country road can represent as much of a danger as driving on a dual carriageway in city limits, yet there are thousands of roads in rural areas where speed limits are simply too high. Take a look at some of our roadmarkings - broken lines on corners, solid white on straight stretches. Importantly, it is also about education - and the Road Safety Authority does a fine job in demonstrating the dangers of speeding with its graphic television advertisements. Only a few years ago most people did not think twice about having a couple of jars and driving - now it is simply unacceptable in the majority’s eyes.
In a week that Galway was designated as the most traffic-choked in Ireland, it is pertinent to look across the water again where UK councils are turning off their traffic lights. Engineers have discovered traffic lights to be inefficient at many junctions, particularly where traffic is kept at a standstill when there is no cross traffic, or where there are automatic pedestrian filters. They have discovered drivers left to their own devices are more considerate and will allow vehicles to take turns - thereby keeping traffic moving. It also means drivers are not racing through green lights posing a greater danger. There are situations here in Galway where some traffic lights could be turned to flashing amber between certain hours, and pedestrian lights need only be prompted manually. Perhaps it is time a more organic and co-ordinated approach to the roads and traffic could be taken.