Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Signs and speed limits on Irish roads in need of radical rethink

John Shirley

Doing our bit for The Gathering, we brought friends from Down Under touring Ireland last week. It was interesting to view our country through their eyes.

On the positive side, they were gobsmacked at the "awesome" flower displays and hanging baskets in our towns and villages. There was also positive comment on the village and town cleanliness. Fair dues must be given to the shopkeepers and volunteers that do most of this work.

However, when it came to road signage in general, and speed limits in particular, our visitors were mystified.

As we crawled bumper to bumper around corkscrew turns towards Moll's Gap on the famous Ring of Kerry, we were incredulous to note that this road was rated with a 100km/hr speed limit. Apart from the sharp bends, this road was so narrow that every time we met a bus our friends suggested we breathe in to allow space for the bus to get by.

Yet the next day travelling from Scariff to Ennis on a wide open road with well marked wide shoulders, the speed limit was 80km/hr.

When we departed the main roads in Clare onto boreens with grass up the middle and only wide enough for one vehicle, the speed limit was still 80km/hr.

This mismatch of speed limits with road quality is farcical. Who in the local authorities is making these inappropriate, inconsistent and illogical speed limit decisions?

If their judgement is so poor on road speed limits, can we trust any of their other work?

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And road signage is of much more than academic interest to us all. Earlier this year, two members of our extended family travelling on minor roads near Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, were killed in a road accident.

Nobody can be sure what happened, but I believe that inadequate signage was definitely a contributory factor in this accident. Instead of having an in-your-face STOP sign at the fatal crossing point where the accident happened, there was a yield right of way sign which was at an angle and so high that you would need to having been in a lorry to get a good view of it.

Locals would have been aware of this crossing, but the real purpose of road signs is to inform and warn visitors and strangers. In the Bagenalstown accident the deceased were overseas visitors.

Similarly, last week our visitors noted the dual languages on road signs till we entered the Kerry Gaeltacht where the signs were in Irish only. This is neither logical or welcoming. Locals, who understand Irish, know their way around and don't need the signs. Visitors, depending on the signs, are unlikely to understand Irish.

The Irish AA has long been campaigning for more consistency on road speed limits. AA members have assembled over 200 locations where the speed limits are deemed inappropriate and these have been submitted by the AA to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar.

The eccentricity of our speed limits is in part due to each county authority doing its own thing. On the N11 Wicklow Co Council imposes a 60km/hr limit on a road which is deemed to rate a 100km/h limit once it crosses the boundary into Wexford.

There are several examples where national primary roads are downgraded from 100km/hr to 80km/hr if a motorway is opened on the same route. Again this defies logic, but it happens.

There are some who suggest that this is a conspiracy to catch motorists speeding, but maybe we shouldn't attribute to conspiracy that which can be explained by incompetence.

My guests said how in New Zealand drivers are given guideline safe speeds approaching corners and other obstacles. They find this very helpful.

Another flaw in Ireland's road signage which we noted from last week's tour was how several signs were part or even wholly hidden by growing vegetation. This could have lethal consequences and should be addressed.

Is this a case where the State could give people claiming social welfare the option of keeping road signs clear? It would be a morale-boosting activity for people genuinely seeking a job.

Local authorities are also responsible for roadside verges and especially for controlling noxious weeds such as ragworth. Romanians may be harvesting ragworth for some medicinal purpose, but local authorities need to get on their bike to stop the national march of this weed.

Finally, we encountered big numbers of farm vehicles on the roads. Tractors drawing hay or silage making gear, tractors with slurry spreaders – it's a time of high activity. The considerate farmer drivers used to pull in to allow those behind to overtake and move on. We thank them. We also thank the farmers whose gear is fitted with proper lighting. Nothing less can be tolerated.

I understand Minister Varadkar is to shortly issue new guidelines on road signage and speed limits. These are long overdue.

Irish Independent