Irish speed limits are daft. Without looking very hard, any one of us can come up with a list of locations where we know the limit is too high, too low, or just plain ridiculous.
At the start of the year the AA asked people to report bad speed limits to us up and down the country.We got a tremendous response from motorists and those reports are still coming in. The pattern is not a pretty one – shambolic, daft, and ludicrous limits litter the country and no county is exempt.
There are two distinct problems. Firstly, there is the country boreen with grass growing up the middle of it and laughable speed limit of 80kph on a shiny sign. You can find examples by the dozen in every county and, every time you see one, it makes a mockery of speed limits. These are all essentially the one problem which is that the national default speed limit is 80kph.
If a road is so minor that the local authority never even assesses it, then legally it is that national speed limit that applies and has to be signposted. Hence tiny unassessed roads countrywide are all 80kph. One change to the legislation to drop the speed limit on all minor roads would solve them all at the one time.
The second problem is about what the councils have done when they take the time to assess a given road. The law provides a menu of speed limits – 30kph, 40kph, and so on, up to 120kph. The local authority gets to select a limit from this list and apply it to a road as it sees fit. Individual authorities make their choices and there is not enough consistency between them.
Some are excessively picky and drop the speed limit on a major primary road down to 60kph (the N11 in Wicklow for example ). Others apply 100kph where no one in his/her right mind would think it appropriate. We have reports of 100kph signs within a few yards of a bad bend or a junction and again those examples are countrywide.
Even while the campaign continues, we have already compiled a list of more than 200 locations like this. Some of them are very well known, like the N4 with its absurd 80kph with four lanes wide in south Dublin, while it has a 100kph limit on its most dangerous stretch in Co Sligo.
We have sent that list into the Department of Transport and I will be meeting it shortly. The Department will be launching an initiative to get the various authorities to act on this list and set those limits correctly.
It is perhaps unfair to say that the local authorities are a law unto themselves, but it feels that way to motorists sometimes. Since the road traffic act of 1994 the power to choose which limit has been theirs alone. The AA has been exasperated enough over the years that we have been highlighting this problem and we have suggested taking the power from them.
This is against the Government’s policy on maximising local powers. Hmmm. I am not entirely convinced by that, but then I don’t want the power for myself and the AA is not trying to frustrate local democracy – we just want them to get it right once and for all.
We have had previous promises from previous governments but, to be fair, the commitment to tackle this issue seems genuine from the Department and the Minister. The AA will work with them and I do hope we might finally get this whole sorry mess cleaned up.