Why ‘Jake’s law’ on speed limits is the fastest way to cut road death numbers

Liz O’Donnell – Irish Independent – original news article click here

PUBLISHED21/02/2015 | 02:30

Roseann and Chris Brennan, parents of victim Jake Brennan, at the end of the protest  to Jake's Legacy which took place outside Leinster House, Dublin.<br />
Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Roseann and Chris Brennan, parents of victim Jake Brennan, at the end of the protest to Jake’s Legacy which took place outside Leinster House, Dublin. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

The unopposed passage in the Dáil this week of a law Bill (Jake’s law) to introduce a 20kph speed limit in residential areas is a measure of the support across all political parties for strengthening rules to promote road safety.

The private members bill, sponsored by Sinn Féin Deputy Dessie Ellis, was prompted by the grieving parents of a young boy, Jake Brennan, who died after being hit by a car outside his home in a Kilkenny housing estate. Since this life-altering tragedy, the family have been campaigning to have 20kph speed limits introduced in residential estates.

Such mandatory limits are not straight forward and the minister, in welcoming and supporting the principle of the bill, indicated he had instructed local authorities to examine and report on the implementation of the measure and for the Attorney General to liaise with the deputy sponsoring the bill on how best to progress the new law. The law as it stands sets a default speed limit of 50kph in built-up areas, but allows local authorities to set a limit of 30kph where they believe it is appropriate.The minister has been active in recent months in pressing for action by the local authorities and has ordered a review of speed limits and gave €2m funding to assist in this exercise. Complications arise, however, in what constitutes a “residential” road. Some residential roads are in fact substantial routes for traffic. So mandatory centrally-imposed speed limits would be inappropriate.

Despite criticism, the minister was right to hasten slowly on this. One can imagine traffic chaos if overnight a national mandatory speed limit of 20kph was introduced.

Local authorities are the best vehicle for changing the local speed limits, based on knowledge of the area and traffic flows, and not to mention business activity. The minister is to progress the principle of Jake’s law as this initiative and bill has been titled in the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill, which will shortly come before committee.

Excessive speed was cited as a contributory factor in 15pc of all fatalities in Ireland in the period between 2002-2012; the economic cost to society of speeding- related collisions was estimated at €140m per year for the period. Of all motorcyclists killed, 25pc were in speed-related collisions. Of all private car drivers killed on the roads, 16pc were killed in speed-related collisions. Of these, 16pc were learner drivers. Of the 411 fatal collisions where excessive speed was a factor, 232 (56pc) were single vehicle crashes.

Dublin, Cork and Donegal are the counties where the greatest number of excessive speed-related collisions occurred.

Over the years, major improvements in road safety have been achieved as measured by fatalities and serious injury. The decade from 2002 to 2012, the same period as for those figures above, saw road deaths drop from 376 to 162, a reduction of 60pc. Such a dramatic improvement did not happen by chance. It involved improving road quality and setting higher standards for vehicle safety through NCT and commercial vehicle testing. Tougher laws on drink driving and mandatory alcohol testing were introduced. Penalty points, introduced in 2002, have proven to be both a deterrent and an educational tool.

But the last two years have seen a regrettable rise in road fatalities. There were 197 in 2014. Although driver deaths were down, vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists were up. Four out of 10 who died in 2014 was either a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorcyclist. Sadly, 16 children aged up to 15 years lost their lives, double the previous year.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) will be particularly focusing on vulnerable road users in the 2015 strategy and awareness campaigns.

Elderly people and young children are those most at risk. Those aged over 60 accounted for 40pc of all pedestrian deaths. Eight children were knocked down and killed last year. That is why the proposal to reduce speed of vehicles in residential areas where children are playing is so important.

The Department of Transport completed a speed limits review in 2013 in consultation with the RSA, NRA and the AA as well as the Garda Síochána and local authorities. The review was detailed and made special recommendations on speed, including proposals for what are called Urban Shared Spaces or home zones. These home zones would be a formal designation under the Roads Act and would attract a maximum speed limit.

But that would still leave the issue of dealing with vehicle traffic and speed in existing residential areas not designed to that particular urban design model. The challenge now is to follow through on the principle of Jake’s Law. The move is in line with such limits fast gaining acceptance across EU cities, most recently Edinburgh and Milan.

Speeding, both excessive and inappropriate, remains one of the main causes of collisions and of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Four out of five penalty point events are for speeding. We are all offenders.

If we as a society and as road users could just slow down by 15kph, we would reduce road collisions by 20pc. Small changes in our driving behaviour can make a huge difference and even save a life. If a car hits a child at 30kph, there is a 90pc chance the child will live. If hit at 50kph, the child’s survival likelihood is 50/50. If hit at 60kph, the chances are that the child will be killed.

How about that for a New Year resolution worth keeping.

Irish Independent

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