Minister Donohoe welcomes Bill to lower speed limit in residential areas

17th February, 2015

Option of 20km/h lower speed limit to be introduced


The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD, has this evening (Tuesday) welcomed the publication of a Private Members Bill to lower the speed limit in residential areas to 20km/h.  The Bill, entitled Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2015, is sponsored by Deputy Dessie Ellis of Sinn Fein. (See full speech below)


Speaking this evening, Minister Donohoe said: ‘This Bill raises one of the most important safety issues on our roads, that of speeding in residential areas.  These are not only areas where many people walk and cycle but, most crucially, areas where young children often play. Driving at inappropriate speeds

is unacceptable anywhere, but the risks are especially high in residential areas’.


The Minister stated that the Government supported the principle of a 20 km/h speed limit for residential areas, where appropriate and that an option of such a lower speed limit is to be introduced.  In consequence, the Government is not opposing the Bill when it is heard at Second Stage in the Dáil this evening.


The law as it stands sets a default speed limit of 50km/h in built-up areas, but allows Local Authorities to set a limit of 30 km/h where they believe it is appropriate.  The Department has been active in recent months in encouraging Local Authorities to apply the 30 km/h limit. It has done this by issuing a circular calling for a review to be carried out to determine if appropriate speed limits are in place and by providing funding of €2 million and guidance to assist Local Authorities in implementing lower speed limits.


“We all agree on the need to reduce speed in residential areas and having considered Deputy Ellis’ proposals, I have no disagreement in principle with creating a 20 km/h limit for residential areas.  However, difficulties do exist in relation to a mandatory, centrally-imposed speed limit of 20 km/h due to the difficulty in defining exactly is what a residential road.  There are many roads across the country that qualify as residential but which are also used as substantial routes for traffic. James’s St on the south side of Dublin and Church St on the north side are two such examples.


“In case where residential roads are major traffic thoroughfares it may not be appropriate to designate these as 20 or 30 km/h zones, not least because it is unlikely that such limits would be observed. For reasons such as these, it is my view that it would be more appropriate to allow Local Authorities the freedom to decide where lower speed limits should apply, rather than imposing mandatory limits.


“It is important with any legislation to get it right. I therefore believe that the next step should be a pilot scheme which will review the practicalities and implications of providing for a 20km/h speed limit in certain circumstances’.


“Based on the outcome of this scheme, it is my intention to address the issue of speed limits in residential areas through provisions in the Government’s Road Traffic Bill 2015.  The General Scheme of this Bill was approved by Government on 10th February 2015 and has been submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for formal drafting, with a view to publication in the summer.  The General Scheme will be forwarded shortly to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications for pre-legislative scrutiny.”


Departmental officials are available to meet with Deputy Ellis to discuss the Bill and will engage with the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that the new provision will be a robust piece of legislation to address this important issue.



Press Office, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, 01 604 1090 / 01 604 1093



Speech by Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Road Traffic (Amendment Bill) 2015 – Second Stage

Private Members Bill Introduced by Deputy Dessie Ellis




A Cheann Chomhairle,


At the outset, I should say that I will not be opposing this Bill introduced by Deputy Ellis, and I would like to thank him for raising an important issue through this proposed legislation.


Road safety is one area of policy which is, happily, above party politics.  We all agree on the goal of making our roads safer, and we all welcome any measures which can contribute to that.  Over many years, until quite recently, there was a steady decline in deaths on our roads.


The decade from 2002 to 2012 saw a reduction in annual road fatalities from 376 to 162, a drop of almost 60%.  There was similar success in reducing the number of serious injuries in that period, from 1,009 in 2003 to 487 in 2012.


The dramatic improvement in road safety in that period was the result of a wide range of contributing factors.  The quality of roads was improved, higher standards were set for vehicles, with better maintenance standards through the NCT and commercial vehicle testing.  Tougher laws were enacted on drink driving, and Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoints were introduced.


The introduction of the penalty point system from 2002 was also a major initiative, and has proven to have both a deterrent and an educational role.  In addition, the driver licensing regime has become more rigorous, with mandatory lessons for learners, and a lower penalty point threshold for learners and recently qualified drivers, among other advances.


The creation of the Road Safety Authority in 2006 also played a crucial role, bringing together and co-ordinating many activities designed to promote road safety.  The RSA has ensured joined-up thinking across a range of areas, from vehicle standards, to driver training and testing, to road safety education.


Ultimately, road safety can never be ensured by legislation or enforcement alone.  Individual drivers are responsible for their behaviour behind the wheel.  For safety to increase, it is essential that drivers accept and act on the need to behave in a safe manner, with due regard for other road users.  We have seen a particular culture-shift in the area of drink driving, which is no longer regarded as socially acceptable.


In 2013, as we know, road deaths increased to 189.  They rose again in 2014 to 197.  This is a very worrying development.


The reasons are hard to pin-point, but we have to say that there must be a number of causes, and if we are to resume the downward trend of the past decade we have to keep up the pressure for safety on a number of fronts.




We all know behind these numbers are real people, real lives lost, family and friends bereaved.  I understand that the tragic case of Jake Brennan was one of the factors which prompted Deputy Ellis to propose this Bill.

I am sure everyone will join me in expressing our sympathy to Jake’s family, and we will all agree that anything we can do to prevent such tragedies in future must be done.




There is general agreement on the need to control the speed of vehicles in residential areas, where there will be significant numbers of vulnerable road users, especially children playing.


I have met with Roseann Brennan on five occasions in my Department and also engaged with her just this morning outside the Dail.


On foot of earlier meetings, I announced on February 4th the allocation of an additional €2 million to local authorities to support them in implementing 30 km per hour speed limits in residential areas.




Furthermore, in October of last year, following detailed discussions with the Jake’s Legacy Campaign, my Department issued to local authorities a ‘Circular on the control of Vehicle Speeds in Housing Estates.’


The purpose of this Circular was:


  • To advise local authorities of the results of a recent survey in respect of the numbers of housing estates which have ramps and have 30  km/h speed limits;
  • To reiterate the existing policy regarding traffic calming procedures for housing estates and on streets and roads in Ireland; and
  • To request local authorities to undertake a review process of speed limits in housing estates so that the Executive and the Elected Members can decide if existing limits are appropriate to ensure a safe environment, particularly for children.


All local authorities have now responded to my Department and we are studying the details of those responses to examine what the next steps might be.


Guidance documents already issued by my Department provide a policy framework for public roads under the responsibility of local authorities in respect of:


  • Designing new estates so that vehicles travel at much lower speeds than heretofore and
  • Revamping existing estates using a wide range of measures (including the use of signage and speed ramps) to assist in lowering vehicle speeds.


The 2010 Guidelines for the Application of Special Speed Limits gives particular guidance in respect of 30 km/h speed limits.  It notes that in some instances such speed limits may need to be implemented in conjunction with physical traffic calming measures such as ramps.


The purpose of the Department’s policy framework is to guide local authorities in assessing what actions can best deliver safety improvements in residential areas – the measures selected will depend on the particular location and local authorities need to have the flexibility to make decisions that take account of local conditions.  The overriding objective is to reduce vehicle speeds in housing estates so as to improve safety for all.



The Bill before us today proposes action in relation to an area of particular concern on our roads, namely speed limits in residential areas.


Speeding is one of the main causes of collisions, and of deaths and serious injuries, on our roads.  It is interesting to notice that, although there are more than 50 separate offences which attract penalty points, four out of every five penalty point events are for speeding.

While our roads are, overall, still a great deal safer than they were at the beginning of the millennium, speed remains a crucial risk factor on our roads.


The present Bill proposes to amend the Road Traffic Act 2004 in respect of speed limits.  The 2004 Act is the foundational legislation for speed limits in Ireland at present, and sections 4 to 10 of that Act define particular types of speed limit.


There are several types of speed limit prescribed.  These are –


  • Ordinary Speed Limits
  • Built-up Area Speed Limits
  • Non-Urban Regional and Local Roads Speed Limits
  • National Road Speed Limits
  • Motorway Speed Limits
  • Special Speed Limits
  • Speed Limits at Road Works

The Bill proposes the insertion of a new subsection ‘(1A)’ into section 7 of the 2004 Act, i.e. the section relating to national road speed limits.  This would define a new kind of speed limit, to be called a ‘Residential road speed limit’, which would be 20 kilometres per hour for all mechanically propelled vehicles.


In addition, the Bill also proposes substituting a new subsection (2) in section 9 – the section relating to special speed limits.


The present subsection 2 states what special speed limits may be applied in bye-laws made by road authorities under section 9(1).



The proposed amendment would add the option of a special speed limit of 20 km/h, under section 9(2), which would be applied only on roads within areas defined in bye-laws as residential areas or housing estates but not covered by the provisions of the new section 7(1A).



In 2013, my Department completed a Speed Limits Review.


This was a comprehensive review which was conducted in consultation with stakeholders including local authorities, An Garda Síochána, the RSA, NRA and AA.  The process lasted well over a year, and arrived at many valuable conclusions and recommendations.



Section 4.3.5 of the Speed Limits Review Report sets out, as Action 15, part 2, proposals for what are referred to as Urban Shared Spaces, or Homezones.  The concept of Homezones refers to an overall urban design approach aimed at minimising demarcations between vehicle traffic and pedestrians, often by removing features such as kerbs, road surface markings, traffic signs and regulations.


Typically used on narrower streets within the urban core and as part of living streets within residential areas, the approach exists in many forms in a number of other countries.


‘Homezone’, under this recommendation, would become a formal designation under the Roads Act and would allow for a lower default and maximum Speed Limit.  The Review notes however that this approach is often opposed by organisations such as those representing the blind or partially sighted.


The Review suggested that more detailed proposals should be developed during 2015.  It also suggested a 30 km/h or possibly a 20 km/h speed limit in Homezones.


I appreciate that what is proposed in this Bill is somewhat different.  The Homezone idea would refer, ideally, to residential areas designed from the outset to a particular model.  What the Bill is dealing with – and what realistically the law must deal with – is the issue of residential zones which were not designed to the fairly exacting standards of Homezones.


The Bill would in effect create a mandatory 20 km/h speed limit for housing estates and residential zones, and also provide for a special speed limit of 20 km/h.  By contrast, the lowest special speed limit in the current legislation is 30 km/h.  I should be clear that the Speed Limit Review, while very comprehensive, did not make any proposal for a 20 km/h speed limit.




I have considered Deputy Ellis’ proposals, and I have no disagreement in principle with creating a 20 km/h limit for residential areas.


However, difficulties do exist in relation to a mandatory, centrally-imposed speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour.


One such difficulty relates to the designation of a “residential road”- I can think of many roads in this city and in other cities which have homes located on them but which are also substantial routes for traffic, including but not limited to rush hour commuting times.


James’s St on the south side and Church St on the north side of Dublin are two such roads. Both would appear to fall within the definition of “residential road” in the Bill, in that there are houses on either side of those roads.


However, these are major traffic thoroughfares and it might not be appropriate to designate these as 20 or 30 km per hour zones, not least because it is unlikely such limits would be observed.


For reasons such as these, I am inclined to the view that it would be more appropriate to allow local authorities the freedom to decide where it is most appropriate to apply it, rather than making it a mandatory limit.


As this is not a matter which was addressed as such by the Speed Limits Review, I would like to see a proper study of the likely impact before proceeding.


I believe that a pilot scheme to review the practicalities and implications of providing for a 20km/h speed limit in appropriate circumstances would be of great assistance in this regard.


Let me repeat – I sympathise with the thrust of the proposal, but I do believe we need to be clear about the implications and impact before we legislate on this.


I am currently engaged in work on a new Road Traffic Bill, the General Scheme of which will be sent to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications in the coming days.


I believe this may be the best and fastest way to ensure the prompt introduction of any 20 km per hour speed limit.


I reiterate that I will bring in the option of the lower speed limit of 20 km per hour in this Bill.


Once again, I would like to thank Deputy Ellis for raising what I believe is a very important matter.  I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on the issue.