“Most drivers” RSA chairperson claims “drive at an appropriate speed” while evidence shows majority of drivers exceed 50km/h limit

— 75% of those recorded speeding were travelling more than 5km/h over speed limit.

Road Safety Authority chairperson Liz O’Donnell claimed that “It is important to acknowledge that most drivers do the right thing and drive at an appropriate speed” today as the authority released evidence showing how the majority of drivers exceeded urban limits.

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O’Donnell’s comments were published in the same RSA press release in which the State agency released details of how the vast majority of motorists chose to exceed the 50km/h speed limit in uncongested ‘Free Speed’ conditions.

The full quote from Liz O’Donnell, Chairperson Road Safety Authority said: “The faster you drive, the more likely you are to be involved in a collision which could result in death or serious injury. I am appealing to drivers to slow down and drive at a speed that is appropriate for the conditions. It is important to acknowledge that most drivers do the right thing and drive at an appropriate speed. However, there are some drivers who continually ignore our speed limits and put themselves and others at risk.”

In the press release, O’Donnell added: “This is particularly dangerous on higher speed rural roads which are often narrow, and where bends and corners can restrict a driver’s vision. Just over three quarters (77%) of driver fatalities who were speeding occurred on rural roads. There are no margins for error on these roads which is why drivers need to slow down when using them. By slowing down you give yourself time and space to react to something unexpected around the next corner, like a tractor emerging from a field or a group of cyclists.”

But her comments were published alongside evidence showing that 78% of drivers were found to have driven in excess of the posted speed limit of 50km/h in uncongested conditions. The new RSA speed survey found that 75% of drivers on weekdays and 93% at weekends were observed breaking the posted speed limit.

This clearly shows that a claim that speeding is only an issue among only a minority of motorists has no bases in reality and that the majority of motorists speed when they are not constrained, for example by traffic congestion, traffic calming or traffic lights.

The new preliminary data was collected at 11 urban locations using automatic traffic counters over a 9-day period in October 2021. This resulted in over 5,000 observations of vehicles (passenger cars, motorcycles, LGVs, and HGVs) driving in free-flowing traffic conditions.

The previous Free Speed surveys used roadside handheld devices and the switch to automatic counting is likely to have played part in the increase.

But the fact that the majority of motorists chose to speed in uncongested conditions is not new. RSA Free Speed data from over a decade ago, in 2009 and again in 2011, showed a majority of motorists choosing to speed in uncongested conditions.

The RSA also published opinion polling, conducted for the RSA by Behaviour & Attitudes, which showed that a majority of motorists “believe it is acceptable to exceed 50km/h speed limits by less than 10km/h” — 63% of respondents agreed with this statement in 2021, which increased from 53% in 2019.

Collision data shows that there is a significant increase in the likelihood of a collision, and also the likelihood of motorists killing a person walking or cycling when travelling at 60km/h rather than 50km/h.

Of the motorists found to be speeding in 50km/h zones in 2021, 75% were travelling more than 5km/h above the speed limit.

IMAGE: A graph published in an RSA document.

Road safety and active travel campaigners have continuously warned that speeding is underestimated.

They point out that a statistic often quoted to dismiss the issue is the data from National Slow Down Day, which is happening today. For example, the Garda Press Office in the last half hour reported an update which stated: “An Garda Síochána and GoSafe checked the speed of 78,911 vehicles and detected 374 vehicles travelling in excess of the applicable speed limit.” But campaigners say that this is a distortion as motorists will usually know where speed vans are located, the vans are mostly highly visible and motorists flash their headlights to warn fellow motorists approaching.

O’Donnell’s quotes have been used in a number of media outlets already including the Irish Mirror and farming news website agriland.ie.

The RSA was contacted for comment to clarify O’Donnell’s comments but has yet to respond to the request. This article will be updated if a reply is forthcoming.

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  1. two very good pieces here, Cian, thank you. I’m reminded of your other pieces which argue that structural barriers to speeding (i.e., changing road design by narrowing road width, making segregation barriers solid and introducing slalom style incursions) are way more effective than sticking up signs. On Strand Road (meant to be 30km) I’ve often been overtaken by motorists travelling at 70 or 80km.


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