Motorways: we need to improve our driving and awareness skills
Speed, stopping distances, lane usage, joining the traffic, tiredness ... they all pose potential hazards for drivers
This week I'd like to talk about motorway safety.
Around 18pc of our national primary road network is of motorway standard.
That's a total of 916 kilometres.
And they are generally viewed and ranked as being among the safest roads on which to drive.
But that doesn't mean they are without risk. Don't forget, that with vehicles travelling at speeds of up to 120kmh, if something goes wrong there can be serious consequences.
That's why the Rules of the Road on using motorways are stricter.
The first sign you see at the start of a motorway lists the type of road users who are not allowed use the route.
The list includes:
* People who do not hold a full driving licence for the category they are driving;
* Vehicles unable to travel at speeds of at least 50kmh;
* Vehicles with engines of 50cc or lower;
* Invalid carriages or motorised wheelchairs;
* Vehicles that do not use inflated tyres;
* Cyclists, pedestrians, animals.
These restrictions are in place primarily because the speeds at which vehicles can travel on a motorway make it unsafe for the categories outlined.
It's also why it is an offence to stop on the hard shoulder unless there has been a breakdown or emergency. Stopping to take, or make, a phone call or to let children out to relieve themselves are not emergencies. These constitute real risk to all concerned.
Pedestrians are at risk of becoming motorway casualties if, for some reason, a driver stops and steps out onto the road.
If you need to stop, please use one of the serviced or unserviced halting places.
If needs be, leave the motorway altogether. Check out Transport Infrastructure Ireland's map of all motorway stops around the country on their website - www.tii.ie.
It is also well worth bearing in mind that your total stopping distance at the upper legal motorway speed limit of 120kmh is 102 metres in dry conditions.
That's roughly 27 cars in a row. Or the length of a soccer pitch.
Which is it is so vitally important to keep your distance from the vehicle in front. If you follow too closely you simply will not have the time or space to stop safely in the event of an emergency.
A handy tip to help keep your distance is to see if you can read the number plate on the car in front. If you can you are too close.
You also need to tailor your speed to match the conditions, obviously. If it is foggy you will absolutely need to slow well down.
Another weather-related issue -hail - poses a major risk too.
Showers are unpredictable.
A driver may suddenly pass from perfectly good road conditions onto a carpet of hailstones.
In such a scenario, it is vital that you reduce your speed, without braking if possible, and avoid any sudden steering movements.
And please warn other drivers of the potential danger by using your hazard lights.
Joining a motorway can be a dangerous part of your journey.
Be careful, pay attention as traffic merges. You must give way to vehicles already on the motorway.
For normal driving you should keep in the left lane and use the outer right lane for overtaking only.
It is not, as many people seem to think, a 'fast lane'. There are several instances every day of people hogging the outside lane at slow speeds, thereby creating traffic build-ups and dangerous impatience on the part of other drivers.
Because of the continuous nature of motorways, driving on them can be become monotonous.
As a result, drivers are often more at risk of tiredness.
So plan breaks before you set out on a journey.
Remember: Stop. Sip. Sleep if you feel tired or drowsy at all.
One final tip: Have your toll fare ready before you set off. It means you're not fumbling for change at a potentially dangerous juncture when you could collide with another vehicle.