Brendan Hoban: We Need to Get Tough on Speedsters

We need to get much tougher on speedsters    

Western People 9.8.2022

If you’re driving along a road and oncoming drivers are flashing their lights in warning it usually means one of three things. One, there’s an accident ahead, so be extra careful; two, there are cattle on the road; or, three, a speed camera is in operation around the next corner. 

Near where I live, a few kilometres outside Ballina, motorists are constantly being flashed because a speed camera is often on duty around a corner at the end of a long straight road. 

Just beyond a point where the 60km limit ends, a speed camera often nestles ominously at the roadside and has become the bane of local motorists in dread of accruing penalty points. 

It’s a classic case of an ideal set of circumstances for the deadly entrapment of absent-minded motorists lulled into heedlessness on a quiet country road and resulting in the harvesting of regularly acquired penalty points that place in jeopardy one of the most necessary and valuable personal properties, a driver’s licence. 

The most probable time for acquiring penalty points is when the road is relatively quiet – because it is impossible to get caught when the road is busy. Motorists will know what I mean.

When the dreaded speed camera is in place and the road is busy, motorists coming from Ballina are usually confronted with a line of oncoming motorists flashing their lights warning the absent-minded that there is danger up ahead. 

While very occasionally there may be cattle on the road or an accident has occurred, the light-flashing more often than not is the playing out of a regular and very effective conspiracy of motorists protecting fellow motorists in a concerted effort not just to break the law of the land but, in effect, ultimately to endanger life and limb. 

This light-flashing ritual, now commonplace and effective, is played out as almost a necessary defence of the rights of motorists against the encroachments of the law on the freedom some motorists seem to enjoy as almost a God-given right to ignore speed limits at will. 

It is, of course, nothing of the sort. Rather it is a selfish, unlawful and grossly irresponsible way of undermining road safety and freeing motorists who break the law and statistically, as we know, contribute massively to the death toll on our roads. 

A friend of mine some years ago, driving near Longford, found himself aimlessly flashing his lights at oncoming motorists, warning them about an upcoming speed camera. He was waved down up the road by a Garda who cross-questioned him as to the reason for the light-flashing. The result was an appearance at the Longford court where he (and several other similar ‘flashers’) received a hefty fine for wasting Garda time and endangering road safety. 

Lesson learned.

Now, let’s ponder the following scenario of the flashing driver. Suppose some irresponsible driver comes to recognise that he (or she) can effectively ignore the possible presence of the speed camera in the certain knowledge that other road-users will flash a warning if the van is around the corner. Effectively this gives the green-light to other drivers to drive at whatever speed they want to.

Now suppose a driver, taking advantage of the protection offered, feels free to drive that road at whatever speed he (or she) chooses, has an accident and kills someone, who ultimately bears responsibility for the horrific fall-out – the death and suffering that may ensue for a lifetime?

The driver of the car, primarily. But surely too those who effectively aided that driver in his or her irresponsibility by heretofore protecting them from breaking the law. It would have been the lesser of two evils if, instead of other drivers protecting them from their foolish and irresponsible behaviour, that driver had lost his or her licence. The person killed would certainly agree, so would their families and so too would the irresponsible driver.

In Ireland, the daft policy in terms of speed-driving is to pander to the motorist by a gentle policy of encouragement. We molly-coddle drivers by listing where the speed cameras are situated. We put graphic adverts on television of frightening accidents, dead children and distraught parents immersed in a life-long nightmare of grief. We appeal to the better nature of reckless speedsters.

The intention may be worthwhile and attest to a sophisticated form of policing based on inspiring goodwill rather than fear. That’s all well and good but the brutal truth is that it’s not working. And instead of the present expensive sophisticated policy that’s not working, we need to introduce a campaign of ‘hard love’ in order to protect those who otherwise will surely die on our roads and their families who will grieve them.

We need to look at what works in other jurisdictions, like Canada and Switzerland. In Canada, speedsters can face fines of up to $10,000 with a motorcyclist recently getting a fine of $12,000.

In Switzerland, there are graded levels of fines depending on location and the actual speed. In Ireland, the fines are paltry in comparison. As I write the papers quote a Garda report that over 1,000 drivers were caught speeding on the August bank holiday weekend – and they’ll probably end up paying token fines of €160.

Here’s a suggestion that might save lives, horrific injuries and the almost unimaginable and unnecessary grief of families.

Scrap the sophisticated adverts and replace them with one sharp, catchy sanction – anything higher than 12 penalty points and you lose your licence for an extended period with a life’s ban to follow a second lapse.

Implement it and watch the immediate decline in road-deaths. Meanwhile, the rest of us need to bear in mind that flashing lights to warn others about speed cameras can mean contributing directly to death on our roads.

Life isn’t a game.

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