Thursday 29 September 2016

Why we must all change our attitudes to low-level speed

Our Road Safety expert highlights how we lag behind other countries in a vital area of driving

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Chief Executive of the Road Safety Authority Moyagh Murdock
Chief Executive of the Road Safety Authority Moyagh Murdock

There is no doubt we have made considerable progress on making our roads safer. Deaths and injuries are down substantially compared to a decade ago.

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The vast majority of road users, and in particular drivers, really have made seismic changes to their attitudes and behaviour.

Recent research conducted by the RSA shows that drivers are roughly broken down into three groups. The majority account for about 60pc of drivers and are by and large, law abiding road users.

The second group which accounts for about 30pc of drivers are in a grey zone regarding their behaviour, mixing between good behaviour and rule breaking regularly.

The remaining 10pc of drivers can only be described as the rotten apples at the bottom of the barrel.

These are the drivers who have little or no regard for the law. They cannot be convinced by road safety pleas or by any amount of enforcement. The majority of these killer drivers are men, aged between 17 and 40. I will come back to this group at some point in the future but for now I'd like to focus on the on the first two groups.

I have mentioned that as a population we have changed our attitudes to pretty much all road safety issues for the better. But there is one issue that hasn't improved over the years. A behaviour that is still deemed acceptable by over half the population. Despite all our advances over the last decade and a half we have very poor attitudes when it comes to speeding. A staggering 54 of drivers think that it's ok to break the speed limit by up to 10kmh over the 50 kmh speed limit. A similar number believe it's acceptable to do the same in 100kmh roads.

Not only are our attitudes speeding lagging far behind other road safety issues such as drink driving, non-wearing of seatbelts, drug driving, using a mobile phone while driving, they are simply archaic compared to public attitudes in the rest of Europe.

This attitude is confirmed by observational studies conducted by the RSA. In our most recent Free Speeds Survey 80pc of drivers were observed breaking the speed limit in 50kmh zones. Half of drivers up to 10kmh over the limit. This is simply shocking. If this were 80pc of drivers under the influence of alcohol there would be national outrage. But there isn't because we believe it is acceptable.

It is not acceptable to put the lives of the more vulnerable at risk in our towns and villages because of a selfish desire to drive at whatever speed we like, of what is clearly displayed on a pole as the maximum permitted speed on urban roads. The law.

To put this in context, nine out of 10 pedestrians, hit by a vehicle at 60kmh will die. Hit at 30kmh nine out of 10 will survive.

To see how far behind we are in our attitudes and behaviour when it comes to low level speeding, look at the rest of Europe. In cities across the continent there is a huge groundswell of support for lower speed limits in urban areas which has led to an almost blanket application of 30kmh speed limits.

Grenoble in France is the first large French city to introduce a blanket 30kmh zone across the city - reduced from 50kmh. The measures, which came into force on January 1, follow a large expansion of 30kmh zones in Paris and a similar scale change in Valencia in neighbouring Spain last year. Paris is expected to extend 30kmh zones across the city by 2020, and the Spanish government has also announced plans for 30kmh to be the default limit on all urban roads.

Edinburgh has extended 30kmh zones across 80 of its city streets. In the UK 13 million people live in 30kmh zones (20 mph).

The 30kmh speed limit was introduced in Ireland back in 2005 when we switched to metric. But I don't think I could count on one hand the number of locations, and I don't mean housing estates I'm talking about villages, towns or cities, that I'm aware of, that have applied them in a large scale manner to protect vulnerable road users.

Our chief executive Moyagh Murdock has said that our cultural acceptance of speeding, particularly low level speeding needs to change. But most importantly of all, our abysmal implementation of 30kmh zones in urban areas with large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, needs to change.

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