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Opinion: It’s time to reduce the speed limit to 30kmh in our cities – traffic will flow better and lives will surely be saved

Driving too fast is a factor in many collisions

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Gardaí at the scene of a serious road traffic collision on the M50 northbound over the bank holiday weekend. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Gardaí at the scene of a serious road traffic collision on the M50 northbound over the bank holiday weekend. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Gardaí at the scene of a serious road traffic collision on the M50 northbound over the bank holiday weekend. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Seven people died in a series of road accidents over the June bank holiday – the worst weekend on Irish roads this year.

They brought to 77 the number of people killed on the roads so far in 2022, compared with 44 in the same period last year.

How many fatalities could be prevented by towns and cities having wide pavements, protected cycle paths, bus corridors and single-lane traffic with speed limits of 30kmh? Cities full of people, moving freely.

Other countries have achieved this, so why can’t we? A reduction to 30kmh for traffic on many Spanish roads, introduced in May last year, has come with a substantial drop in road deaths.

While Spanish authorities caution it is early days, initial figures since the speed limits were introduced show a 25pc fall in fatalities in 2021 compared with 2019.

Bilbao went even further than the national standard and extended the 30kmh speed limit to all roads in the city centre.

The Spanish director general of traffic, Pere Navarro, said more data is needed over the next two years to see if the measures have achieved their objectives, but in the meantime, the lower limits would bring further benefits, including “reduced traffic, noise and pollution, while increasing citizens’ quality of life”.

Similar evidence has emerged in the UK. Based on three studies in 2018, in London, Bristol and West Yorkshire, where speeds were reduced to a maximum of 20mph in built-up areas, a decline in casualties of more than 40pc has occurred.

Meanwhile, active travel is being endorsed by leading public health agencies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), as an effective way to increase young people’s physical activity.

In addition, an Irish government initiative was introduced in March last year to support walking and cycling infrastructure to schools all over the country to help meet climate change targets and improve physical activity in children.

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It is imperative these initiatives are not undermined by roads becoming increasingly dangerous due to road vehicle design that enhances driver comfort and safety at the expense of increasing numbers of children and adults walking, cycling or scootering.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death of children and young adults, said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, advocating a speed limit of 30kmh in cities and towns at the launch of UN Global Road Safety Week last year. Data shows that introducing such a speed limit does not increase journey time.

About one-third of road traffic deaths can be traced to excessive speed. The WHO believes every kilometre per hour over the limit increases the risk of a fatal crash by 4pc to 5pc.  

Barry Aldworth of AA Ireland has said 30kmh zones help traffic to flow better, but need to be implemented properly. “It’s very easy to change a speed limit or change a signpost – changing behaviour is much harder,” he said.

EU legislation requiring all new vehicles sold from 2022 to have built-in speed limiters will also help to reduce speed.

A default limit of 30kmh in built-up areas has the ultimate benefit of a cleaner environment and improved safety for everyone.

Dr Catherine Conlon is senior medical officer in the Department of Public Health, St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork, and former director of human health and nutrition, Safefood


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