— AA lobbied for years for such an appeals process, which was promised since 2013.
— Road safety campaigners fear appeals system will be used to increase limits.
— New system to bypass councillors at the early stages of setting speed limits.
Campaigners who seek lower speed limits across Ireland have cautiously welcomed new provisions for members of the public to appeal the speed limits on roads and streets, but expressed concern that it could be a charter for motorists to look for speed limit increases.
The Department of Transport said the system is “intended to facilitate a legitimate query a member of the public or interested party may have regarding a particular speed limit.” Complaints that a speed limit is too low or high will be looked at by a local panel of engineers who have experience setting speed limits.
The Department said that if the member of the public is not happy with the outcome they will be able to make an “escalation” of the appeal to an “Independent Regional Panel” — this process will include an administration fee of €125. The fee will be refundable if the panel agrees with the complainant.
The Department of Transport said in guidance published today that councils must start a speed limit review process within 12 months of decision from a regional panel. The “Independent Regional Panel” will include at least two engineers from other councils and chairpersons from organisations such as the Department, the RSA, Gardai, or Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
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The Department said: “There is also a facility for Local Authorities themselves to submit an appeal directly to the relevant Regional Panel in situations where it is proving difficult to agree on proposed speed limit changes with the Elected Members during the early consultation phases of the Local Authority Speed Limit Review. In this case, the relevant Director of Service submits the appeal to the Regional Panel.”
Today, the Department said: “If a speed limit is deemed to not be set in accordance with the Speed Limit Guidelines, the Local Authority will notify the applicant and begin the process of rectifying the speed limit. The statutory power to adopt speed limit bye-laws will remain with the Elected Members of Local Authorities on roads in their administrative area.”
When councils review speed limits, as part of the normal process, the changes must be advertised and public consultation held before elected councillors agree to the speed limit changes. This process should happen at least every five years, but many councils conduct the reviews more often. The new process launched today will likely accelerate the frequency of changes.
But councillors and officials have both complained that this system is too cumbersome and rigid, with councillors left with a “take it or leave it” decision on all of what council management suggests near the of the process. And the new layer today looks to bypass councillors at the start of the process, possibly making the end-of-process deadlock worse.
The Department said that the process at local and regional stages of appeal should follow the 2015 Speed Limit Guidelines.
The AA, a motoring lobby group, was the only non-governmental origination to have direct input to the 2013 national Speed Limits Review conducted by the Department — this led to the 2015 guidelines.
The recommendation for an appeals process on top of the normal public consultation for speed limits came out of the 2013 review and was championed by an AA spokesperson in the media around the same time.
As part of the same process, the AA managed to convince the Department to implement a programme to remove 80km/h signs from narrow country roads and replace them with a sign which is used on the German autobahn network to indicate the speed limit no longer applies.
A plate saying “slow” was attached below the sign, but the Department said the new sign still indicates a limit of 80km/h. At the time, the AA and then transport Minister Leo Varadkar said it would cause less confusion.
Speaking to IrishCycle.com today, Mairead Forsythe, a spokesperson for Love 30, a campaign for lower speed limits, said: “We welcome the opportunity to see a review of speed limits because we think that a lot of roads have speed limits that are too high for the usage and the needs of people other than motorists.”
“I’d be very concerned if this was seen as a charter for motorists or groups of motorists to look for increases in speed limits,” said Forsythe.
She added: “In town and village centres, in the vicinity of schools, and in residential estates we believe that the speed limits should be tailored to suit the needs of the people who live there and who move about on a daily basis… there should be much greater use of 30km/h limits in urban areas, and we also have serious concerns about some of the outskirts of towns and villages where speed limits are too high. And on some rural roads the 80km/h limit should be reduced to 60km/h.”
Love 30 said there should be a default 30km/h speed limit for urban areas. The group has previously repeated that such a default does not equal a blanket limit and it would be up to local councils to outline the reasoning why and which main roads would remain at 50km/h or higher.
In a press release announcing the appeals process today, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said: “The Programme for Government committed to reviewing and reducing speed limits with a view to addressing both road safety issues and carbon emissions and ensuring greater compliance.”
He added: “This process will highlight speed limits that are deemed inappropriate, and which require further investigation. It is important to note however that this is not a mechanism for appealing penalties issued for speeding offences.”
The Programme for Government has no apparent commitment to an appeals process.
The form for the Speed Limit Appeal Process can be found via speedlimits.ie/appeals.