Deputy Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said gardaí would be enforcing the new limits “with immediate effect” from January 20.
Speaking at the launch of a €2.5 million campaign to raise public awareness of the changeover in Dublin yesterday, Commissioner Murphy said motorists had ample opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new limits before the changeover.
But he strongly rejected any suggestion that gardaí operated speed checkpoints in a manner to entrap motorists. However, Commissioner Murphy acknowledged that there was a perception that gardaí positioned checkpoints on the basis of where the most revenue could be raised.
From January 20, all speed limits and distances will be displayed in kilo-metres to replace the old imperial system of miles in what Transport Minister Martin Cullen described as “one of the most significant events in the history of Irish motoring”.
“The change to kilometre speed limits will, by enhancing awareness of speed limits generally, sharpen the focus of safety on our roads,” said the minister.
The biggest change will apply to non-national roads, which account for 90% of the Republic’s 96,000km road network, where the current speed limit of 60mph will be reduced to 80kph (or 50mph) - a reduction of 20%.
Other important changes are:
Speed limits on motorways will go from 70mph to 120kph (74mph).
Speed limits on national roads will go from 60 mph to 100kph (62mph).
Speed limits in built-up areas will go from 30mph to 50kph (31mph).
Local authorities will also be able to apply special speed limits at specified locations, including a new limit of 30kph (19mph) in sensitive areas such as near schools. They may also apply special speed limits of 50, 60, 80 and 100kph on any section of road as well as a limit of 120kph on dual carriageways.
Under new legislation, local authorities will be obliged to consult with the public whenever they propose a variation of general limits.
Speed limits for heavy goods vehicles and other large passenger vehicles which currently have a maximum limit of 50 mph will be announced next week.
A major publicity campaign to promote the “Go Metric - Go Safe” slogan involving TV, radio and billboard ads will begin later this week, while over 1.6 million leaflets will also be delivered to every household in the country.
More than 58,000 new metric speed limit signs will be erected by local authorities shortly before January 20 at a cost of €9m. Signs warning motorists of the changeover will also be erected at airports and ferryports as well as border crossings with Northern Ireland, where there are no plans to switch to metric speed limits.
Chairperson of the National Safety Council Eddie Shaw said he hoped the changeover would have the same impact on road safety as the introduction of penalty points in November 2002, when the average number of deaths on roads fell to record low levels.
However, he accepted that there were still some sections of road where there were “inappropriate and inconsistent” speeds set by local authorities. “Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer,” he said.
Mr Shaw admitted that older drivers used to measurements in miles faced a challenge in adapting to the metrication of speed limits. However, he stressed that every motorist had a personal responsibility to acquaint themselves with the new limits.
For motorists whose speedometers have miles as the predominant reading, one can calculate the new limit in miles by dropping the last zero from the metric speed limit and multiplying the figure by six.
For example, 120kph = 12x6 = 72mph (approx).
However, the speed of the changeover was criticised by Fine Gael Transport spokeswoman Olivia Mitchell.
“There is a real danger that the public will not be able to familiarise itself with the new metric speed limits within the two-week publicity campaign,” said Ms Mitchell.
People can also get further information on the metrication process by phoning a helpline on Lo-Call 1890-506080 or accessing a special website: www.gometric.ie