On speed enforcement, Irish Times is factually and morally wrong

— Newspaper compares proposed speed enforcement changes to Mad Hatter drink driving permits for rural roads.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: “When drivers are caught for a speeding violation, the specific penalties differ in different countries. Generally, the fines are related to the level of speeding: the larger the speed violation, the higher the fine,” said an EU website describing the general situation on speeding enforcement across Europe.

It adds: “Speeding at motorways is generally seen to warrant lower fines than speeding on other road types”.

Transport minister Shane Ross is trying to bring Ireland in line with much of Europe and bring in such a system. It’s often referred to as a graduated speeding fines system.

So, it was a bit of a surprise that an Irish Times editorial, titled “The Irish Times view on road safety: Policy and publicity“, had a sweeping attack on Minister Ross’s plans.

“Once again, Ross is swimming against the tide of expert opinion” said The Irish Times editorial position.

Once again? The newspaper explains that: “his appetite for headlines is such that he sometimes ignores the advice of experts and officials. That happened with legislation involving an overtaking space for cyclists. The Attorney General rejected it as unworkable and Ministers voted it down, although welcome new provisions toughen the penalties for those who overtake cyclists in a dangerous manner.”

This is a strange view of what happened in regard to the legislation involving overtaking people on bicycles. Minister Ross followed the view of the Attorney General — so, “swimming against the tide of expert opinion” did not apply.

There’s some indication that the problem with the transport minister’s plan is the proposed maximum fine of €2,000 for exceeding speed limits by over 30km/h. Anybody who takes a second will realise that this is a court fine and the amount will be left up to judges.

Sending people straight to court for higher-end speeding is also something that happens in other countries and, in practice, it happens here often when Gardai catch people at the higher end.

The idea that it will clog up courts is no different than the saying that drunk drivers filled up the courts over the years as the drink driving laws were made stricter as it became socially more acceptable to tighten the screws.

The way that half the media are reporting this is like clamping down on high-end speeding of 30km/h over the limit is just another thing targeting the hard pressed motorist. The reality is that it is reckless behaviour. It is also only a special type of reckless who speeds by this amount. They are not just a minority of motorists but also a minority of speeders:

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The Irish Times said that “Legal experts, gardaí and the AA have rejected” Ross’ plans. The legal experts the newspaper refers to seems to be mainly defence lawyers (ie the people who’s job it is to get people off criminal acts).

While the AA have been shown to be full of nonsense on speed. AA spokesman Conor Faughnan is great at his job — that’s not sarcasm. He is a brilliant media handler.

The AA continues to be seen as a reliable source on speed even after it lobbied for increased speed limits on Dublin’s streets (including calling for the limit to be increased on Dawson Street from 30km/h to 60km/h, Ballymun Road from 50km/h to 80km/h and Conyngham Road from 50km/h to 80km/h). The submission was made clearly by the AA, but Faughnan added confusion to his first on-radio defence of the submission. In a later interview he claimed the AA were just passing on suggestions made by their members.

A classic from Faughnan, which clearly gets traction given the amount he uses it, is the idea that we have enough laws and we just need more enforcement.

IMAGE: The technology for automated variable speed limits on motorways is in place in some locations and can be quickly inserted elsewhere, it just needs legal backing. Another example of how we need new laws.

Then we’re left with the mention by The Irish Times that Ross is going against Gardai. Is this the same type of Garda sources which gets so confused about automated variable speed limits on motorways that they think that Gardai would be left, as the Sunday Independent reported: “determining when bad weather began and/or ended” and had “concerns over determining the location of bad weather”.

But The Irish Times — which in the past also dragged its heals with negative coverage of 30km/h limits in urban areas — could not stop there. They could not help themselves.

Of Ross’s plans, the newspaper said that “with an election pending, it is unlikely to go away. The same can be said of Danny Healy-Rae’s proposal that Kerry farmers should receive special permits to drive home after drinking two pints” — this is shocking stuff comparing bringing in speed limit changes to a Mad Hatter idea of drink driving permits for rural roads.

Then trying to sound sensible again the newspaper brings up other issues such as “an estimated 120,000 motorists have failed to take driving tests and operate on a succession of provisional permits” — this is really straw man stuff when Ross has also tried to reform the laws around learner drivers.

Ross might, as The Irish Times said, like press releases a bit too much but there’s few successful politicians who are not attention hungry. So, Ross’s wish to be in the limelight does not justify a newspaper like The Irish Times to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a distraction and hinders progress on road safety law.

If the intent was road safety, then The Irish Times would have looked to be constructive around the proposals. The Irish Times could have agreed with the very sensible point made by Attorney General Séamus Woulfe, which they reported about a year ago.

In 2018, The Irish Times reported that Woulfe said the following in Cabinet notes: “There is a question as to whether it is proportionate to stipulate the penalties in this manner. 10km/h over the speed limit in a 120km/h zone might not represent as big a danger or as intentional a wrongdoing as the same breach in a 30km/h zone.

Woulfe’s solution was to look at the basis of what percentage over the speed limit the person was driving. An overall simpler solution is the system used in other countries where the speed is graduated by both km/h over and by type of road (see table below for the Dutch example of this).

This is the fairest way of setting speed limits and it also re-focuses minds of motorists, politicians, officials, and the Gardai that speeding outside a school or on a residential street is worse than speeding on a motorway or national road.

I’ll end with reminders of how speed kills and how 5km/h and 10km/h over limits matter — Ross is nearly on the right track, he mainly needs to allow for different fines for different areas.

ALSO SEE: “I was only speeding slightly”

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

2 Comments

  1. The Irish Times seems to be at sixes-and-sevens over its editorial and news lines on road safety, cycling and liveable neighbourhoods. This is just the latest!

  2. It would be interesting to see the proportion of articulated trucks for whom the speed limit is 80 kph maximum on any road that obey the limit.

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