According to the Road Safety Authority, one third of road deaths in Ireland are the result of speeding. Behind that statistic are lives lost.
With that in mind, gardaí are extending speed cameras, a decade after their introduction, to 900 more roads, after research showing that three out of four fatalities are occurring in these areas.
As well as that, 170 hi-tech, hand-held speed guns are to be deployed this month. Unlike previous guns, they can operate in all weather and at night and can target vehicles up to 1,000m away.
Investment in new technology and the extension of speed cameras are to be welcomed, as evidence of a renewed determination to enforce speed limits, thereby making the roads safer for all. What is not so welcome, however, is the decision to remove speed-camera warning signs.
That reflects a cynical view that such signs are used primarily by habitual speedsters to avoid detection. It also takes away from the real focus, which is to save lives and limit injuries.
The decision also appears to fly in the face of government policy going back at least 15 years. A 2005 Department of Justice report on the use of safety (speed) cameras concluded that the accepted model for improving road safety is three-fold, based on the integration of education, engineering, and enforcement.
“It is believed that road users will improve their conduct when informed of, and educated in, the dangers of inappropriate behaviour,” says the report, commissioned by the National Roads Authority, the body then responsible for road infrastructure.
The report also states that “for any safety-camera project to be successful, the public must recognise that its purpose is to save lives and is not related to revenue collection”.
In a statement, published on the RSA website in 2010, an Garda Síochána announced that the introduction of speed cameras “… is about saving lives and preventing injuries, not about catching people…the objective of the safety-camera project is to change driver behaviour…”
If that remains the objective, removing camera-warning signs is a strange way of doing it.
Doing so takes one essential element out of the push for greater road safety, because those signs are, first and foremost, educational, creating greater awareness and acting as a reminder to all road users to check their speed. Removing them will remove this awareness. It may rack up fines, but it also risks fatalities.
Garda management say the speed-camera signs are being removed because they want motorists to focus on the maximum-speed signs. However, camera-warning signs are a good way to remind normally cautious drivers that they may be going too fast.
Another way is the use of electronic signs near towns and villages. These use emojis to show drivers what speed they are going, with a smiley face if it is under the limit and a scowl if over.
That approach puts motorists — and their behaviour — squarely in the driving seat when it comes to road safety. That is where, primarily, it belongs.