Variable speed limits and the return of the old black diagonal slash are on the cards following a major review of speed limits by the Road Safety Authority. The report by the Speed Limits Working Group has been delivered to the Minister for Transport and includes a new rural road speed limit regime, a new appeals system so that members of the public can query those limits they see as inappropriate and the possible introduction of variable speed limits and average speed detection cameras. And it’s these that could, potentially, drive down the second hand value of sportier cars in this country.
“This detailed report sets out a new approach, and the Department will now work with the NRA, local authorities, the Gardaí, and the AA to implement its recommendations. I also want to thank the Working Group for producing such a comprehensive study. If people are going to respect speed limits, then we need to ensure that speed limits respect the motorist. But we must also ensure that every limit is safe and sensible" said Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar at the unveiling of the report's findings.
Probably the most significant change will be the removal of the current 80kmh signs found on many of the country's narrow rural roads. It has been decided that these signs are effectively encouraging speeding by suggesting that the road is good for 80kmh at all times and in all weathers. Assuming the change recommended by the Working Group is brought into effect, these signs will be ditched and replaced with the old black diagonal line signs, which will put the onus on motorists to use their judgement as to an appropriate speed, with a maximum permissible 80kmh still enforced.
Similarly, it's being proposed that inappropriately high limits on stretches of roads where there are dangerous or sharp corners be removed. The actual limit may not necessarily be reduced, but, for instance, a 100kmh sign on the approach to a tight bend would be removed, and repeater signs that give the same false sense of security are already being taken out.
Motorway speed limits are also coming under the scrutiny of the Working Group and one of the main proposals has been an introduction of variable speed limits which can be adjusted depending on the time of day, volume of traffic and weather conditions. While that section of the report didn't mention motorways specifically, it would seem logical that Dublin's M50 and the major feeder motorways to that road would be the most likely areas to introduce such systems. Definitely on the cards for motorways are average speed cameras, which record your car's number plate in several locations along a route and calculate your overall speed.
City and county managers are also to be given more authority over temporary speed limits, and may well be allowed to apply them flexibly, especially at road works. It's possible that such limits may only be applied when work is actually taking place. Interestingly, one of the report's recommendations is that " the guidelines for the application of speed limits will be improved and made binding." That would seem to be shot across the bows of many local authorities who have made a bad job of their speed limits both in terms of the limits set and the signage used. Indeed, we have heard many times over the years that car makers have not bothered offering such technologies as cameras which read speed limit signs and flash a reminder up on the dashboard here because our signage is so inconsistent.
Finally, a new appeals system will be put in place, allowing members of the public to more easily appeal a speed limit to their local authority, which must consider the review within a given time-frame. If the person or party who made the appeal isn't satisfied with the local authority's response, then they can escalate the appeal to an independent review body, which will be given powers to instruct local authorities to change the limit if it's deemed inappropriate. The National Roads Authority will also be tasked to review every speed limit in the country on a rolling five year cycle, and issue recommendations to changes or updates where necessary.
"It is easy to think that whenever a speed limit is too low it does no harm but this is a mistake. Speed limits have to be set logically and consistently. They must be in sympathy with the engineering and layout of the road and drivers must have faith that they have been carefully and realistically selected" said Conor Faughnan, public affairs manager for the AA.
"A speed limit that is self-evidently absurd does long-term damage to the Road Safety effort. Perhaps the clearest examples of these are the small country boreens that display ridiculous 80 kmh sign-posts. The effect of these over time is to teach motorists that the limits themselves don’t count. They may keep an eye out for Gardai but they don’t believe that the speed limit is correct because it isn’t. This undermines respect for the enforcement effort. It needlessly increases cynicism about speed cameras, for example.
"This is a good day for the ongoing effort to improve road safety in Ireland. Irish motorists have been huge supporters of the Road Safety Strategy in the last 10-15 years. We know from our direct engagement with Irish drivers that there is very strong support for measures designed to reduce road death. Even measures that might have been controversial or opposed in the past – like random breath checks, reductions in the blood alcohol limit, speed cameras – have been solidly supported by Irish motorists. We know how important it is. There has been a clear shift in social values which is very heartening to see.”
That’s a clear shift which, I think it’s safe to say, we have all been happy to see. But will stricter, more heavily enforced speed limits stymie sales of sporting cars in Ireland? It’s an interesting question. Certainly having average speed cameras mounted on various routes would probably be a disincentive towards buying a more powerful car, a vehicle designed purely for enjoyment. After all, what’s the point in having the GTI if you’re just going to be pegged to the same speed as a basic diesel all the time. Not that we’re advocating reckless driving, but on the right road, at the right time, an enjoyable burst of extra speed is pretty harmless.
There is also a safety aspect which is often ignored. Many people bemoan the very fact that car makers bother to create vehicles which can exceed the national speed limit. What’t the point, they ask? Well, without that performance aspect, there would be no improvements in suspension, aerodynamics, tyres, steering, electronic safety systems. Not only is there a beneficial trickle-down effect in terms of the technology from high performance cars becoming common on more mundane models, there is also the simple fact that at legal speeds, a performance car has a greater margin of safety than a mainstream car.
There are two possible outcomes here. One is that we emulate the UK market, where in spite of the proliferation of speed cameras, average speed cameras and Gatso vans, the market for high performance cars has never been more buoyant. Or we could end up like Australia, where rigid enforcement of speed laws (even 2mph over the posted limit can get you a ticket) has effectively killed the market for anything even vaguely sporty. We don’t strictly speaking need sporting cars, it must be said, but our world would be something of a poorer place without them. And existing owners of sporty cars may be much the poorer if new speed laws whip the rug out from under used values.
Ready to take speed limits on the chin and buy a GTI? Fast cars are more likely to have been crashed or written off, so make sure your dream machine has a solid history by checking it on Motorcheck.ie.