Making sense of the speed limits in rural Ireland

For years, Co Clare dweller, Arlene Harris has been tormented by speed limits on the rural roads near where she lives. They don’t make sense, she says

To quote the words of Bucks Fizz, one minute we have to ‘speed it up’ and the next we are instructed to ‘slow it down’ as we try to make sense of the speed limit on Irish roads.

Over the Christmas period, no doubt many drivers were pulled over for their enthusiasm behind the wheel — and if they were driving without due care and attention, I fully applaud the authorities for reprimanding them.

But spare a thought for visitors who try to make some sense of our bizarre road signage. Across the country built-up areas outside main towns have a speed limit of 50kmph, which is fair enough. It may seem like we are being instructed to drive at a snail’s pace in an area where there are little or no pedestrians and plenty of space for cars to do their thing safely, but I understand both the need for caution and the rules, and duly stick below the limit.

However, it doesn’t make any sense at all, when a couple of miles later, drivers are met with an 80kmph road sign — not, as you may imagine, at the start of a dual carriageway but instead at the turn off for a one-track country lane, where going over 30kmph would be the actions of a lunatic.

During the festive season, we had visitors from abroad who asked me to explain the road signage system as in many of the remote areas they visited across the country, the speed limit was higher than that on the main thoroughfares.

I struggled to find a logical answer because this issue has bothered me for years — up and down the country, I have spotted 80kmph signs on what are little more than boreens and wondered who thought up this farcical system and how much did it cost. Surely it would have been safer to have no signage at all rather than stating that it was possible to attempt the impossible?

Totally nonsensical

Independent TD Mattie McGrath agrees wholeheartedly.

Making sense of the speed limits in rural Ireland

“In relation to the almost absurd lack of correlation between road speed signs and capacity of the road to cater for that speed safely; this is an issue I have been speaking about for years now,” he says.

“Many areas of rural Ireland have what amounts to totally nonsensical speed sign indications and there has been a consistent lack of consultation by the NRA with local communities on this matter. Indeed the NRA has often proved frustratingly difficult to deal with when it comes to addressing this issue.

“While in some areas local knowledge will suffice to know the appropriate and safe speed limit; but for many, including tourists, the signs are actually an active threat to safety as there is a presumption made that those who designated the speed limits must know what they are doing — if only it were so. They provide no meaningful sense of the speeds which should be undertaken in these areas.”

The Tipperary and West Waterford politician says simple measures can be taken to rectify this issue.

“In relation to the cost issue; the only cost we should be concerned with is the cost to human life and safety as financial considerations ought to be a distant second or third place,” he says. “However, what is most often needed is simply a replacement of one element of the sign; the actual number, it would not require removal of the whole sign.

“There are simple and effective solutions to this problem which in partnership with locals and local authorities could be managed far more effectively.”

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) has begun rectifying this issue and a spokesperson says new signage is being rolled out across the country which it is hoped, will remove the confusion over speed limits.

“New Guidelines for setting and managing speed limits were launched in early 2015 arising from a 2013 Speed Limit Review Report,” says a spokeswoman. “Among other things, the guidelines provide for the use of a new alternative ‘rural speed limit’ sign on narrow country roads instead of the numerical 80 kmph sign.”

Common sense

However, Kerry Independent, Michael Healy-Rae doesn’t believe the signs serve any purpose at all and people should know instinctively what speed is required.

Making sense of the speed limits in rural Ireland

“When a person sees an 80kmph sign it should be common sense to the driver that if the condition of the road dictates that the person can only do 30 or 40kmph, that is the speed they should do,” he says. “The upper speed limit is just that and it’s obviously not mandatory to do that speed. I believe that signs mean little and actually do not act as a deterrent to stop anyone speeding. It is obvious speeding on our roads is the major cause of accidents and people should recognise this fact themselves.”

On this point, the DTTAS is obviously in agreement with Healy Ray as the new signage will not feature any number at all.

“The recommended new sign is the ‘black circle with diagonal’ and does not display a numeral,” says a spokeswoman. “This means that drivers must use their judgement when using the road in question but must not exceed 80kmph in any event. Essentially such signs are only being erected at the junction of boreens with higher speed roads. In recommending this change, the review group was conscious of the risk, particularly in relation to some of our rural roads, of misinterpretation of speed limit signs as being safe to drive at any speed up to the limit, or to the numeral displayed,” she says.

So it seems this is a work in progress and hopefully by the time my visitors return again, our speed signs will make a bit more sense to drivers.

And while the DTTAS was not able to reveal how much it cost to erect these signs in the first place, I have been assured that amending them will not break the bank.

“Metrication of road signs was rolled out early in 2005,” says the spokeswoman.

“The cost of interface signs was part of the overall process of replacing imperial signs and is not readily available at this point. It might be noted that prior to metrication a default speed limit of 60mph (equivalent to 100 kmph approx.) applied on non-urban roads and the metrication process effectively reduced this to 80 kmph.

“Signs have been erected on existing poles replacing previous 80 kmph that have been returned to depots for re-use elsewhere — the overall cost of this is estimated at €424,000.”

Well I for one look forward to a little more clarity — let’s watch this space.

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