Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Questions (57)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

57. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to legislate for low-slow speed home zones; his further plans to review speed limits in the Road Traffic Act 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29460/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Up to 9 a.m. this morning, 81 of our fellow citizens tragically lost their lives on the roads so far this year. That includes 14 pedestrians, 45 drivers, ten passengers, eight motorcyclists and six pedal cyclists.

That is a tragic figure, and it is higher than it was at this stage last year. I have asked the Minister about home zones on housing estates and in built up areas in general and why we are not being more proactive in that regard with slow speed zones. Second, I have also asked how the Minister is liaising with the RSA to adopt a stronger approach towards aggressive and fast driving, which often leads to the tragic loss of life and to injuries.

I thank the Deputy for once again raising an important issue aimed at saving the lives of people on our roads, and in this case aimed at saving vulnerable people, including children in vulnerable areas.

While the Road Traffic Act 2004 sets default speed limits for various categories of roads, elected members of local authorities have the statutory responsibility for making special speed limit by-laws for roads in their area - with, in the case of national roads, the consent of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. The making of such by-laws is a reserved function of elected members.

My Department issued updated guidelines for setting and managing speed limits in Ireland in 2015 to assist local authorities in setting special speed limits, taking account of relevant national policy and local circumstances, including road safety. Provision was made for greater use of lower speed limits in urban areas. This includes greater use of the 30 km/h speed limit, as used widely in the EU, and 30 km/h slow zones. This corresponds to 20 mph, the lowest limit in the UK. These slow zones can be introduced to increase safety for the most vulnerable on suitable roads, such as roads immediately adjacent to play areas. Road authorities are asked to seriously consider lowering the speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h in residential estates. Since 2015, 30 km/h speed limits have been applied in more than 6,400 housing estates. Where a limit of 30 km/h is being implemented, local authorities and community groups should consider applying slow zones.

My Department has been funding this programme of works since 2015. Provision has also been made for a 20 km/h speed limit. The 20 km/h speed limit should only be used in very limited circumstances, set out in the updated traffic signs manual. It is not intended to replace the 30 km/h speed limit as the norm in housing estates. In addition, in 2013 my Department issued the design manual for urban roads and streets. This provides for improved design to support traffic calming and safer interaction between road users by encouraging lower speeds on new roads in urban areas. Apart from making provision for variable speed limits, I have no plans to review or to change the range of speed limits available to road authorities.

It is welcome that 6,400 housing estates have implemented signage for slow zones. I note the remarks the Minister made about 20 km/h speed limits but I am not sure that it is valid that we should not have scope for 20 km/h or 25 km/h speed limits.

I obtained figures from the Courts Service recently and they show that, in 2017, almost 26,500 speeding offences were prosecuted in the courts, of which 6,634 resulted in convictions. Similarly, in 2018, almost 23,000 speeding offences were prosecuted in the courts, of which 4,245 resulted in convictions. So far this year, almost 10,000 speeding offences have been prosecuted, so it is clear that speeding remains a serious problem.

Deputy Durkan probably remembers the debates we had in the Chamber with the former Deputy, Seamus Brennan, when he was Minister. Is it not time we went back to the 2004 Act, looked at the range of speed limits from the slow zones up to the 120 km/h zones and carried out a total review of them to give us a procedure to ensure we have much safer roads?

The Deputy and I are probably on the same page on this matter. The 20 km/h limit is slow and is only meant to be used in special circumstances such as on a street that is pedestrianised for most of the day but that allows limited access to delivery vehicles at certain times or on a shared surface street in an urban area where there are no separate footways. The Deputy can understand that, although he will the first to point out that 30 km/h can be a killer in certain circumstances as well. That justifies the use of the slow zones.

The Deputy mentioned the speed limit reviews. In recent years, the local authorities have been reviewing speed limits on rural roads in accordance with the 2015 speed limit guidelines. It is a major exercise and he will be aware of it. It should improve consistency in the application of speed limits across the country, which, in turn, should contribute to improved road safety. I have written to local authorities to urge them to complete their speed limit reviews urgently and my officials have been pursuing them since. I am pleased that as of April this year, 23 local authorities had completed their reviews, five were expecting completion in 2019 and only three were not clearly indicating completion this year. There is a need for a constant revision and review of speed limits of this sort to ensure consistency and to reduce speed limits in places where they are too high.

Is it time for us to move towards the Swedish vision zero approach where it is taken for granted that, unfortunately, some drivers will make mistakes? That is particularly the case at higher speeds and responsibility for the speed limits has to go back to the national authorities and the car manufacturers. We have had a situation where it has been three decades since we made our own cars and, therefore, we are relying on manufacturers abroad, as far away as Japan and so on, to make the vehicles. Is it time that we required them, as Volvo seems to be doing in Sweden, to go down the road of having limiters installed in cars? They allow for mistakes to be made at reasonable speeds. In other jurisdictions they have special limits for adverse weather conditions, night driving and so on. Is it not time for us to review the 2004 Act and examine the other slight amendments we have made and conduct a fundamental review to eradicate the terrible casualties we still experience?

The Deputy will be even more aware than I am that speed is one of the great killers in the road safety firmament and it is something that still causes a lot of deaths in Ireland. Despite the fact that our road safety figures are somewhat better, speed remains a top killer and it is something we must face up to. The fact that we are facing it, mostly on housing estates, and we are reviewing the speed limits to try to introduce consistency acknowledges that. Hopefully, that will keep the numbers of road deaths as low as possible.

I wish to tackle the larger issue the Deputy raised, namely that we should consider some of the approaches to the speed problem on the continent. I am open to any suggestions which would work to save lives. I would not turn down any such suggestions. I am in the process of putting forward a road traffic Bill, which tackles the problem of speeding and addresses it with graduated penalties for speeding. That will be aimed at tackling this problem but if the Deputy wishes to make amendments to that Bill when it comes through the Houses, I will look on them as benignly and as favourably as possible.