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Road safety: it’s not just about speeding

September 12th, 2023 11:40 AM

By Southern Star Team

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ON Monday of this week An Garda Síochána conducted one of their National Slow Down days. The aim of the initiative was to remind drivers of the dangers of speeding, to increase compliance with speed limits, and act as a deterrent to driving at excessive speed.

The date was picked to coincide with the full return of all schools and the related increase in roads users, particularly vulnerable road users, pedestrians, pedal cyclists and specifically younger road users.

But the gardaí also noted that, with the alarming increase in the number of road fatalities on Irish roads this year, and in particular in recent months, Operation Slow Down had taken on increased urgency and relevance. Later in the week it was announced that road speed limits are to be reduced, including on some secondary and rural roads.

There is no doubt that since the pandemic, there seems to be a greater sense of urgency on our roads. Any regular motorist will have noticed this. And, yes, the speed is particularly noticeable on small rural roads.

These roads were never designed to take heavy amounts of vehicular traffic, let alone the volume and speed which they are currently witnessing. Visitors marvel at our twisty little boreens, many of which have their roots in the horse-and-cart trails of yesteryear. 

But, nowadays, these roads are essential to our modern needs of getting from A to B as quickly as possible.

However, the roads have not been able – or allowed – to develop in tandem with the large and fast motors using them, and so they present a very real hazard to anyone not paying full attention.

But it is not just speed which is the issue here. In today’s world, competition for our limited attention is coming from so many different angles. That omnipresent accessory – the mobile phone – is in practically every vehicle today – and if phone calls weren’t distraction enough, we regularly hear stories of drivers texting – and even watching TV or movies – while in control of these lethal machines.

Then there is the rise in drug-driving. One only has to look at the court cases in this newspaper on a regular basis to note the are a lot more cases of drug-driving emerging in recent years. It is a shame, given the amount of time and effort afforded in the past to campaigns to make driving under the influence such an anti-social activity. It looks like we are going to have to do the same with regard to drug-driving.

Be it cannabis or cocaine, the use of any substance that slackens response times, or reduces perceptions of risk, while the user is behind the wheel of a fast-moving machine, is a major cause for concern.

Now, throw into the mix the lack of patience displayed by many motorists since Covid, increased stress levels at work, more powerful engines and everyone working to tighter life deadlines, and you can see where all this is going.

On top of this, our law enforcers are experiencing a recruitment crisis, and legislators are debating a relaxation of drug offences. So there is no doubt that we need a very urgent national conversation about safety on our roads.

The gardaí have released some of the speeds detected on Slow Down Day. Bear in mind that these speeds took place just days after some really shocking tragedies on our roads.

Among the detections: a driver detected doing 163km/h in a 120km/h zone in Co Carlow; another driving at 161km/h in a 100km/h zone in Co Louth, and a driver doing 151km/h in a 120km/h zone on the M8 at Kilworth, Co Cork.

This week the Minister announced that the use of speed detection cameras is to increase by 20%, while speed limits will be reduced, by late 2024 at the earliest. But speed is not the only issue.

Minister McEntee also said that while enforcement and deterrents are key to increasing road safety, they must also be accompanied by greater education and awareness-raising.

She added that we all have a role to play in reducing road deaths. ‘Drivers must understand that every time they take to the road, they have a responsibility to themselves, their passengers and other road users, to drive safely.’

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