Leo Varadkar, the transport minister, has promised a system of “safe and sensible” speed limits across the road network following a major review of the problem of inappropriate speed limits.
As part of a series of reforms, existing 80km/h signs on narrow country roads will be removed and replaced with “rural speed limits” signs.
While the power to fix speed limits will primarily remain with local authorities, members of the public are being given a direct role in challenging inappropriate speed limits under recommendations made by the Speed Limits Working Group.
Mr Varadkar announced that a formal process will be introduced next year to allow anybody to appeal a speed limit to the relevant local authority. If dissatisfied, they will be allowed to appeal that decision to a new appeals body which will be established in 2014.
The group’s report said the key issues with existing speed limits were “inconsistency and inappropriateness”. It claimed there was a problem where motorists encountered roads where the speed limit changed despite no changes in the nature, design, or layout of the road.
In a programme costing €8m, 80km/h signs on small country roads will be replaced by the internationally recognised white circle sign with a black diagonal. Although the speed limit on such roads will officially remain 80km/h, the sign means a motorist must use their judgment.
However, the review group stressed there has been no major issue in terms of road safety or enforcement of motorist speeding on narrow country roads or “boreens”.
The group acknowledged it might be appropriate for some former national roads, which were downgraded to regional roads following the opening of nearby motorways, to have the higher 100km/h limit restored.
Under the proposals, every speed limit will be audited every five years by either the National Roads Authority or the relevant local authority.
“The goal is to ensure that the speed limit on any given road is a fair reflection of the road conditions,” said the review group’s chairman, John McCarthy.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged there had been a problem with speed limits that made no sense because they were either too low or too high.
Conor Faughnan of the AA said the recommendations, when implemented, would address many anomalies where speed limits had been set incorrectly.
He said the issue had caused frustration for drivers as 200 locations had repeatedly been flagged as having a silly speed limit in a AA survey of 20,000 motorists conducted last year.
“It is easy to think that whenever a speed limit is too low it does not harm but this is a mistake. It creates a culture where drivers don’t respect speed limits,” he said.
Altering limits according to weather conditions, traffic volume or time or day will also be trialled.
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