Getting the speed limits right

All over Ireland – and many other countries – every hour of every day, thousands of drivers completely ignore the speed limit, whatever it may be, and drive at whatever speed they fancy. People are constantly taking the most absurd risks with their own safety, and more significantly with the lives and safety of countless others. Here on the campus of Dublin City University – where we have a 30 km/h or 20 mph speed limit – I regularly see drivers (almost always young men) tearing past at 50 mph or sometimes more. When I stop them, as I sometimes do, and lecture them on this, what they say to me is usually unrepeatable. I let them drive on but occasionally see to it that their cars are clamped…

However, I cannot help feeling that one of the disincentives to careful driving are the speed limits themselves. Today I was approaching a toll plaza well known to Dublin drivers, and noticed again that a speed limit sign requires drivers to proceed for the last 100 yards or so before the toll booths at 10 km/h (about 6 mph). This is walking speed. I tried to do it today, and I can report that the cars behind me were not amused. And I cannot blame them. It is clearly idiotic to impose a speed limit that nobody is even going to consider observing; by having this limit, drivers are actually encouraged not to take speed limits seriously, and the result is that they drive well in excess of limits elsewhere that are rational and essential for safety. The same is true occasionally where there are 60 km/h speed limits on open roads, for absolutely no apparent reason; again, drivers ignore these.

Road safety has become a pressing issue in this country, and we need to stop reckless and mindless behaviour by drivers who seem to become insane once they are behind the steering wheel of a car. But part of the programme for getting this right must be to ensure that traffic regulations are also sensible.

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