Average speed cameras fairer on motorists than being ambushed by a speed van

Average speed cameras are to be introduced on Irish roads, which is a good thing, says Trevor Laffan
Average speed cameras fairer on motorists than being ambushed by a speed van

CAUGHT IN A TRAP: But many speeding zones are just revenue-raisers and don’t change behaviour, says ex-guard Trevor Laffan

I WAS happy to see that average speed zone cameras are about to be introduced on Irish roads.

It will be our first mainline motorway-based system, and following a period of testing and commissioning, motorists will see the equipment being deployed for the camera system. This will include the yellow poles and cameras traditionally associated with speed measurement equipment.

I first came across this system in Scotland a few years ago, and I thought it was very fair.

Drivers pass between two camera points positioned along the relevant roadway and their number plates are digitally recorded.

If a driver reaches the second point too soon, a record of the speed violation is auto-generated and sent to the gardaí where it’s treated the same way as a speed van image.

The average speed zone will be clearly identified by appropriate signs and Variable Message Signs (VMS), so you will be in no doubt you’re hitting a zone and after that it’s up to you.

I think that’s a much fairer system than being ambushed by a speed van in an area where there may be an unexpected change in the speed limit.

I got a letter in the post from An Garda Siochana a couple of years ago, informing me that I had exceeded the speed limit in Lemybrien, Co. Waterford. I couldn’t dispute it as there was a photograph of my number plate included and they said I had been recorded doing 83km per hour in a 60km zone.

I was surprised because I pride myself on being a careful driver, but there was nobody else using the car, so I had to put my hands up.

It cost me €80 and three penalty points to atone for my indiscretion, but I did have a grievance though and I’ll tell you why.

I’m not a speed merchant. All my life I have been afflicted with a hatred of being late for anything, so I always arrive ahead of time. When I’m going on a journey, I allow way more time than I need.

I rarely use cruise control because I don’t particularly like it, but when I do, I set it between 110km and 113km when the speed limit is 120km.

I drive a 2.2 litre car which has plenty of power and is well capable of going faster but I prefer to take it easy.

I picked up the ticket while I was driving on the main road from Wexford to Cork and somewhere near Lemybrien, the speed limit drops to 60km. Neither my brother-in-law, who was travelling with me, nor I noticed the sign.

Maybe it’s not very obvious - and I won’t know until I’m back down that way again - but 60kmph is about 40 miles per hour in old money, and you wouldn’t be long gathering a crowd behind you travelling at that speed on the main Rosslare to Cork road.

But, as they say, it is what it is.

There are some locations where speed checks are carried out that are little more that handy earners for the State. For instance, there is a regular spot on the outskirts of Cobh where the speed van parks up, near the entrance to the golf club. Cars accelerate coming up the hill on the way out of town, and when they come over the brow of the hill, the speed van awaits them.

It’s really a case of shooting fish in a barrel.

These vans are supposed to be located in areas where serious accidents have occurred previously. Fair enough, but I’ve been driving out there for more than 40 years and I can’t recall a single accident ever happening on that stretch of road.

If there were a few, I’m not aware of them - it certainly couldn’t be described as an accident black spot.

There is another location coming out of Dungarvan that is often used as a speed trap, and that’s exactly what it is - a trap. There is a steep climb as you head towards Cork on the main road and the hill has both a slow lane and an overtaking lane. The speed limit is 100kph, but for a short distance, half-way up the hill, the limit drops to 60kpm. It’s easy to miss the 60kph sign, particularly if you’re overtaking a high sided vehicle.

My brother-in-law was caught there, and I consider him to be one of the safest drivers I know - and here’s the thing.

I’m not sure that fining the two of us has made the roads any safer or has achieved anything, apart from generating revenue.

In my opinion, placing speed vans in locations like these and hitting soft targets does little to improve road safety.

These average speed zones are a much fairer system, but there is another issue that needs to be addressed if we really want to reduce accidents on our roads, and that’s the poor standard of driving in this country. The kind you see around schools and built-up areas every day when children are heading home. Bad parking, reckless driving and lack of awareness are commonplace, and it will take more than speed vans to rectify that.

I regularly drive behind cars that crawl along the Fota Road at 50kph and hit the brake at every corner because the driver can’t handle the car properly, but as soon as they reach the N25, they accelerate to the maximum speed allowed, driving beyond their capability. So, if they find themselves in an emergency situation, they can’t react quickly enough.

I recently witnessed a motorist creating chaos in the centre of town because she was unable to reverse her car and I know of others who plan their route in advance, so they don’t have to go backwards.

That needs to be addressed too.

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