September 27, 2023
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Slow down minister, we don’t need more speed limits

A push to reduce speed limits on Dublin’s roads to 30km an hour is being backed by Transport Minister Eamon Ryan who also wants the law changed to allow for variable speed limits on motorways. That change is aimed mainly at the M50 and would apply at times of heavy congestion, or very bad weather, when the limit might be reduced as low as 40km.

I have no problem with a 30km restriction in Dublin, because I rarely drive there. It is easy to get to and through the city by public transport, which provides a faster option than the gridlocked crawl that is normal even in these Covid days when shops are closed and most people are meant to be working from home.

Exceed 30km an hour in Dublin? The chance would be a fine thing.

It would be easy to observe a standard 30k limit but that, unfortunately, is not what’s on offer.

The plan, which has now gone out for public consultation, would see a limit of 30km on most roads but 40k on a few, mainly on the city’s northside. There would be a 50km limit on some approach roads and a 60km limit on others.

So, instead of a simple rule that requires no thought, we would have a new variation on the present confusing range of restrictions.

And that is also the problem with Mr Ryan’s proposal for variable motorway speeds. It will add to the confusion that already exists on the M50 where some stretches have a speed limit of 100k and others the 120km limit that applies on most motorways.

There may well be times when a slower speed would be safer on the M50. But the temporary restriction will have to be flashed on overhead gantries and roadside displays. It will be missed by some motorists, ignored by others, and will annoy the majority who would slow down anyway without being told.

The main problem with our speed restrictions is that there are far too many of them.

I live in a suburban area about 15 minutes from a motorway. It wasn’t always a suburban area and it is surrounded by a web of old-style country roads. I pass through many speed restrictions in that 15-minute journey to the motorway. The limit will change at least six times and could change as many as eight times, depending on the route I take. So a change every two minutes, more or less.

The limit on the straight, flat, well-surfaced road outside my house is 40km. If I turn right onto a narrow, winding road with a couple of blind bends, the limit goes up to 60km.

I will go over ramps to slow me down, on stretches of the road where it is impossible to go fast, and I will be allowed to accelerate on stretches where speed is dangerous.

At one point I will be confronted by a flashing sign that shows the speed I am doing and orders me to slow to 50. Less than a minute later I will pass a sign telling me the speed limit is 6okm. I’m not sure my car can accelerate that fast.

When I leave the motorway, where I have been legally travelling at 120km an hour, I am on a stretch of road where the speed limit is 5okm. In a couple of minutes that limit changes to 60km. It drops back to 30km, as it nears a school, then goes up to 80km. The road does not alter in any way, only the speed limit changes.

Motorists can be forgiven if they fail to register some of the changes in legal speeds because the restrictions are illogical, and seem to be imposed at random, and also because some of the speed limit signs are hidden behind hedges and others behind signposts pointing to commercial premises.

This problem of inconsistency is common to the speeding restrictions on every stretch of road in the country.  Except, of course, for motorways. So please, Minister Ryan, don’t make a bad job worse.

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