Category: Archive

Highway mayhem

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Be it the returning native or tourist, anyone who has visited Ireland this year will have noticed the cars. Bigger, newer, faster models roaring along country roads or crawling bumper to bumper through the country’s traffic-snarled cities and towns. And there are many more of them to boot.

Ireland is in love with the automobile like never before. Companies such as Mercedes can’t keep up with orders from the Celtic Tiger’s revved up populace. Everyone is in a hurry. Might as well be comfortable and impress the neighbors. This is all to the good, of course, a highly visible sign of a highly tuned economy.

But there is a darkside.

The carnage on Irish roads is growing worse by the week. People are being killed by the dozen each month, many of them young drivers, A significant percentage of fatal accidents involve only one vehicle, driven at high speed. The word "carnage" has been so often used by headline writers for Ireland’s daily papers that it has become a virtually meaningless description.

Anyone who has driven in rural Ireland recently will have noticed the extreme speed that most drivers get up to, even on the narrowest of roads. It’s not just the hedges that are being clipped as a consequence.

Irish drivers once prided themselves on their courtesy to fellow motorists. But like the donkey and cart of postcard fame, those last vestiges of highway chivalry are fading fast in Ireland’s collective rearview mirror.

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There have been calls for a toughening of licensing qualifications, curfews and speed limits on young, inexperienced drivers. Insurance rates, already high, are set to rise even higher. The Irish police, the Gárda Síochana, have been dishing out on-the-spot speeding fines at record rates. Many residential neighborhoods are now laced with speed ramps. Driving from county to county on main roads, motorists are now treated to signs placed by the county authorities. They tally the number of people who have been killed on the county’s roads in recent years. Sadly, as with those McDonald’s signs that tell you the number of burgers sold, the figures on these signs only rise and never fall.

And yet, despite these efforts, the death toll continues to mount. So what to do?

Improved roadways would appear to be partly the answer. Better educating young drivers would be a help, as would stiffer legal penalties for dangerous driving. But more than anything, it comes down to the individual driver and a million personal decisions each and every day. Leave a little earlier, drive a little slower — in some cases a lot slower — give way to the next guy, don’t compete, don’t drink, don’t show off, don’t lose your cool!

Wishful thinking perhaps. But the kind of thinking that could save one life, perhaps many lives.

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