Comment & Analysis: Some of the greatest communicators and commentators on our airways make things against our collective interest sound perfectly reasonable. In terms of road safety, the debate around speed enforcement is a perfect example.
These experts are regular contributors to radio shows. Both the ones I generally agree with and the ones I don’t are well-seasoned pros. Michael Sheridan, a motoring journalist, is one of the pros. But I have to disagree with him given his comments on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show.
The Garda Commissioner has a plan to introduce speed cameras, including average speed cameras and Sheridan featured alongside Road Safety Authority chairperson Liz O’Donnell.
O’Donnell supports the Commissioner, while Sheridan chipped away at it. Somewhat muddying the waters.
Sheridan first says that he has an issue with where speed cameras are positioned as the cameras must be mounted where there is a reasonably straight road. However, this argument doesn’t hold much water if average-speed cameras are used.
Garda.ie explains how these cameras work: “Unlike traditional speed detection which measures the motorists speed at one particular point along the road, average speed cameras monitor a driver’s average speed while driving between two points. When driving the first camera will record your number plate, and then the second camera will do likewise. The system will time how long it has taken to travel between these two points to calculate your average speed.”
The explainer adds: “To put it simply, an average speed camera tracks how long it takes to travel between two set points on a road and uses this information to calculate your average speed.”
So, along as there’s the will to roll out cameras, cameras could be placed before and after a series of bad bends in a road. Anybody going much over the limit along the bad bends would be caught.
I strongly agree with him that we should also be looking at average speed cameras in urban areas. Especially the types of urban areas where speeding is often not enforced.
I don’t get his point about static cameras as average speed cameras are static, it’s not just the old-style ones that can be static.
Sheridan said: “The speed camera rollout will help slow things down… excessive speed is a problem, inappropriate speed is a problem. But the general flow of traffic is what people are driving to and what people tend to drive to. So on a motorway people are driving and they are on the Cork road and they’re doing 130km/h and if it’s a fine day, most people will see there’s no problem with that, but it’s 10km/h above the limit.”
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The presenter, Claire Byrne, intervened at this stage and said that such driving is breaking the law and he agreed. But there was no real integration of this. If 130km/h is the limit some roads should have then we should set the limit at that. But I doubt many people in safety circles want to increase the motorway limit.
In another part of the item, Sheridan outlined the old line of motorways being the safest roads per km. Of course, they are given the engineering involved in such roads. But there are still fatal collisions and speed plays a large factor in that.
Average speed cameras are fairer as they don’t nab motorists for just going over the limit for a few seconds. What would be even fairer is speeding fines graded by both percentage or range amount over the limit and by the area or type of road. So, 10km/h over on a motorway would be the lowest fine and 10km/h over in a 30km/h zone would be one of the higher fines.
However, when the former transport minister Shane Ross proposed graduated speeding penalties it was approved by Cabinet but left to rot. Such a system is a win-win for motorists and safety. But common sense isn’t common.
Anyway, after getting caught out highly for advocating for saying speeding just a little bit being ok, Sheridan pivoted: “Presence of Guards, blue lights, Garda vehicles on the streets. That really is the only deterrent.”
In the same radio segment, O’Donnell had already outlined how effective average speed cameras have meant compliance shot up above 90% on the M7. But he wasn’t challenged on on-air.
According to the Garda data on the M7 average speed camera, the non-compliance rate at the location in 2020 was recorded at 32%, after the cameras were installed in March 2021 when there was a “non-enforcement testing phase” the non-compliance dropped to 10%. By April 2022, with the cameras in action, the non-compliance rate is just 4%.
Sheridan said education is needed and cameras won’t stop “people on drugs, people who are drunk people, who are tired, criminals driving.”
“A static camera or a speed camera doesn’t assess if they are driving like an idiot or not. It only observes if they’re speeding or not,” he said.
And that’s so true. That’s why it’s a really clever approach.
It’s not his fault that Byrne focused on O’Donnell for most of the segment and his say was compacted into the end, but listeners were treated to a rapid fire of: Cameras work, but but but the locations, and then told so what if people are speeding a little bit, and education is needed, and there’s all of these other issues which cameras cannot help with.
While the call for “Boots on the street” is attractive to people, camera-based enforcement frees up Garda time and resources to catch things that cameras cannot.
Some motoring experts need to stop hemming and hawing about road safety. Everyone else should stop hearing it as reasonably sounding, including radio presenters.