Posted tagged ‘speed limits’

At great speed

November 15, 2010

My current home is on Anglesea Road, Dublin. At various times of the day and night I come out of the house to walk my dog, and often the first task I have to accomplish is to cross the road. For those unfamiliar with the geography, Anglesea Road is in south Dublin, and it links two major thoroughfares into the city, and also runs past the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds. However, the houses on it are residential only. On either end of the road are some quite impressive speed bumps.

For all that, when I try to cross the road, and unless there happens to be traffic gridlock on it at that moment (which is not that rare), I will invariably find that it is a horribly dangerous undertaking, as the average speed of cars is often around 50 mph (or 80 km/h, in a 50 km/h or 30 mph speed limit area), and a number of cars are clearly going at much higher speeds. At no point since I have moved here have I ever seen a police speed check, and motorists have clearly factored that into their driving. On one occasion I saw a car drive past at what must have been 70 mph or so, and the driver then screeched to a stop as a car had stopped just in front of him; there was no accident, but it was a narrow miss. I walked up and knocked on his window, and then asked him whether he realised what speed he was doing. He gave me some pithy advice which I would be unable to follow, physically speaking.

In this country, speed limits are routinely ignored. Just occasionally I understand why, where some speed limits are inappropriately low – but only occasionally.

Tonight new speed cameras and speed checks will come into operation across the country, but I fear it won’t change a whole lot. Motorists seem to be of the view that speeding is their right, and while they will avoid being caught, for them that seems to be some sort of freedom fight against tyranny. My suspicion is that speed cameras will make some money for the state (perhaps we need that right now), but won’t change habits, unless we do more than just improve enforcement. We need to change attitudes. we need to stop kind and considerate people getting into cars and becoming reckless killers. We need to change the national culture.

It’s really the limit!

February 6, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I was driving in Dublin city centre for the first time since the new 30 km/h speed limit was imposed. You couldn’t help being aware of it, as electronic billboards had been shouting at us about the new city centre limits for a while. So as I entered Dame Street (my first 30 km/h location), I put my foot gently on the brake, and settled down for a quiet ride.

A quiet ride? Like hell! The elderly lady ahead of me was working on the principle that if 30 km/h is good, 20 is probably better, and as she was crawling along she was clearly annoying other drivers to the point of fury, and so all around we had a clanking of car horns, and one idiot behind the wheel of a 10-year-old BMW overtook her (and me) with oncoming traffic, doing 60 or 70 I reckoned. As for the law, I could see no Garda (police) presence anywhere, and I felt vaguely cheated that nobody officially noted my heroic serenity in the face of all that excitement. And my law-abiding nature.

I could not credibly complain about the 30 km/h speed limit. After all, one of my early acts as President of DCU was to impose a campus-wide speed limit of 20 mph (i.e. 30 km/h), and every so often if I am feeling really officious I’ll make a point of stopping a boy racer going at 60 and telling him he’ll be barred from the campus if he does it again. It’s always a ‘he’, by the way. And yet, as I travelled along Dame Street I couldn’t help wondering whether this new speed limit was doing any good. Before I reached the end of the street I had also seen a car stall, with the driver clearly not practiced at combining the correct gear and acceleration with the new speed limit. And there was all that ongoing aggression.

Also, if that’s supposed to be a genuine speed limit (as distinct from a policy stroke), you had better police it rigorously. There was no sign of that yesterday. And we could, as a nation, probably do with some compulsory remedial tuition, learning for example thad a steady speed of 30 km/h in city traffic actually gets you there faster. Though to be fair, I’m not sure I believe that, but I think we should pass it round as dogma anyway.

Getting the speed limits right

July 26, 2008

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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