Road speed limits in the Republic of Ireland
Road speed limits in Ireland apply on all public roads in the state. These are signposted and legislated for in kilometres per hour. Speed limits are demarcated by regulatory road signs. These consist of white circular signs with a red outline. Speed limits are marked in black with "km/h" below the speed limit. Smaller "repeater" speed limit signs are used along stretches of road where there is no change in speed limit, in order to remind motorists currently on the road and to inform traffic merging from junctions that a certain speed limit applies.
Speed limits in Ireland were introduced in 1876 by regulations made under the Dublin Traffic Act 1875 which prescribed speed limits of 6 mph (9.7 km/h) for certain vehicles. The Light Locomotives on Highways (Ireland) Order 1896 then set a maximum national speed limit of 12 mph (19 km/h) with a speed limit of 6 mph (9.7 km/h) for traffic in villages, towns and the Dublin Metropolitan Police District. Vehicles weighing more than 2 tons (unladen) were restricted to 5 mph (8.0 km/h) in these areas. This situation was updated in 1933 with Road Traffic Act 1933  prescribing an ordinary speed limit of 25 mph (40 km/h) for light motor vehicles or heavy motor vehicles fitted with pneumatic tyres. Lower speed limits were applied for heavy motor vehicles without some pneumatic tyres, or used for pulling another vehicle. Road signage was established by the Traffic Signs Regulations, 1956.
However, the main piece of legislation responsible for the introduction of speed limits in Ireland was Part IV of the Road Traffic Act, 1961. This repealed the 1933 Act and allowed the Minister for the Environment to prescribe a general speed limit through regulations made under this Act. It also allowed local authorities to specify special speed limits through regulations made under this Act. The first regulations made were the Road Traffic (Speed Limits) Regulations, 1963  which set down a speed limit of 50 mph (80 km/h) for all roads except those subject to a built up area speed limit of 30 mph (48 km/h) or special speed limit of 40 mph (64 km/h). Throughout the mid to late 1960s local authorities studied roads in their areas and had regulations drafted specifically for their county which prescribed speed limits of 30 mph (48 km/h) and 40 mph (64 km/h) along specifically named roads in their administrative area.
On 1 April 1969 the Minister for the Environment through the Road Traffic (General Speed Limit) Regulations, 1969  finally prescribed a general national speed limit of 60 mph (97 km/h) on all roads except those subject to special and built up area speed limits of 40 mph (64 km/h) and 30 mph (48 km/h). This replaced the 50 mph (80 km/h) speed limit in all but a few cases where regulations had been drafted specifically to impose a 50 mph (80 km/h) limit. While the built up area and special speed limits were clearly indicated to motorists by the number 30, 40 or 50 in black numbers on a white circular background with a red outline, there was no such signage for the general 60 mph (97 km/h) speed limit. This was indicated to motorists by a "general speed limit" applies sign which consisted of a circular white sign with a black diagonal line bisecting it. The general limit was reduced to 55 mph (89 km/h) in 1979 as an energy conservation measure during the 1979 energy crisis. Some drivers remained unaware of this change. A review of speed limits from 1990-92 restored the 60 mph limit.
It was not until 1992 that a 70 mph (113 km/h) speed limit was authorised on the State's motorways. This occurred through the Road Traffic (Speed Limits) (County of Kildare) (Amendment) Regulations, 1992  and the similar Road Traffic (Speed Limits) (County Borough of Dublin and County of Dublin) (Amendment) Regulations, 1992. This authorised traffic on the M1, M7, M11 and M50 to travel at 70 mph (113 km/h) where signposted. This was extended to motorways in general by the Road Traffic Act, 1994. A minimum speed limit of 30 mph (48 km/h) had previously been set in 1974 through the Local Government (Roads and Motorways) Act, 1974.
On 20 January 2005, Ireland adopted metric speed limits. Around 35,000 existing signs were replaced and a further 23,000 new signs erected bearing the speed limit in kilometres per hour. To avoid confusion with the old signs, each speed limit sign now has "km/h" beneath the numerals.
Ordinary speed limits
Different default speed limits apply to particular categories of roads. Default speed limits are termed as "ordinary speed limits" by the Road Traffic Act 2004. There are also speed restrictions for certain classes of vehicles. As of 2007, the ordinary speed limits are as follows:
- 120 km/h (75 mph) for motorways
- 100 km/h (62 mph) for National Routes (Primary and Secondary) that are not motorway status.
- 80 km/h (50 mph) for local and regional roads.
- 50 km/h (31 mph) in built up areas.
Special speed limits
- 120 km/h (75 mph) (for Dual Carriageways forming part of a national road only)
- 60 km/h (37 mph)
- 40 km/h (25 mph)
- 30 km/h (19 mph)
There are particular powers available to local county councils under the Road Traffic Act 2004  to apply "special speed limits" to particular stretches of road. Special speed limits of 30, 50, 60, 80, 100 and 120 km/h (19, 31, 37, 50, 62 and 75 mph) can be imposed, but only 30 and 60 km/h (19 and 37 mph) are exclusively "special" as opposed to the others which are "ordinary". The 120 km/h (75 mph) limit is ordinary for motorways but can be special for dual carriageways forming part of a national primary road. Special speed limits are usually lower than normal, for schools, etc. One instance of higher speed limits being applied is that of the new N2 route from the M50 motorway in Fingal (Dublin) to north of Ashbourne, County Meath where a special speed limit of 120 km/h (75 mph) was imposed from 15 June 2006, therefore becoming the first non-motorway road in Ireland to obtain this speed limit. According to the project engineers, the National Roads Authority decided due to the lack of available space at the M50 junction to accommodate a parallel joining non-motorway route that they would designate the new road as high quality dual carriageway and block off the existing road from the M50. The 2004 Act has therefore allowed Local Authorities to get around such issues as the implications of motorway restrictions on learner drivers as under this act such drivers are now permitted to travel at speeds up to 120 km/h (75 mph) on such roads as this section of the N2. The N1 dual carriageway north of Dundalk has also recently been granted a special speed limit of 120 km/h (75 mph), in line with its preceding M1 motorway. As of 2 March 2007, Cork County Council and Limerick city and county councils have published amendments to local bye-laws to adjust several High Quality Carriageways' speed limits to 120 km/h (75 mph). S.I. No. 331 of 2012 allowed a new speed limit of 40km/h to be applied by a city or county council.
Cautionary speed limits
The Minister for Transport issued a direction to road authorities under section 95(16) of the Road Traffic Act 1961 in February 2007 with respect to a range of non-regulatory traffic signs. Chapter 8 of the Traffic Signs Manual was superseded by an updated version which allowed for the erection of signage stating a cautionary speed limit in the vicinity of Road Works. These speed limits are purposely different from legal speed limits and always display a speed limit that ends in 5, for example 35 km/h (22 mph), 45 km/h (28 mph), etc. They are not legally binding on drivers but it is likely that in the event of a road traffic accident that the issue of if they were being complied with, would be taken into account.
Road works speed limits
The Manager of a City or County Council can reduce the speed limit on a road undergoing road works for a stated period of time by executive order under powers available to him/her under the Road Traffic Act 2004. The reduced speed limits are typically 30, 50 or 90 km/h (19, 31 or 56 mph). These are different from Cautionary Speed Limits as they are binding on drivers and it is an offence to exceed a road works speed limit.
Modifications of speed limits
During the period 2000-2010, the state underwent a massive road building programme which included the construction of a national motorway network. Many sections of this "motorway network" such as the N6 from Kinnegad to Kilbeggan were originally built to high quality dual carriageway standard. The Roads Act, 2007 enacted in July 2007 made a provision for the redesignation of dual carriageways to motorway. This meant the hard shoulder of the high quality dual carriageways chosen to be redesignated, had to be changed from a broken yellow line to a continuous yellow line. Green signage also had to be changed to blue. In some instances the cost of this retrofit ran to millions of euro as it involved the replacement of existing gantry and large panel signage as well as the application of hundreds of kilometres of thermoplastic road paint. In September 2008, the Cahir to Cashel stretch of the M8 had its gantry signage changed and hard shoulder re-painted. Parts of the M6 also underwent the same process.
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- Road Traffic Act 1933 - Irish Statute Book
- Traffic Signs Regulations, 1956 - Irish Statute Book
- Road Traffic Act, 1961 - Irish Statute Book
- Road Traffic (Speed Limits) Regulations, 1963
- Road Traffic (General Speed Limit) Regulations, 1969
- "S.I. No. 176/1979: ROAD TRAFFIC (GENERAL SPEED LIMIT) REGULATIONS, 1979.". pp. §5. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
- O'Malley, Desmond (1979-05-15). "Dáil Éireann - Volume 314: Private Notice Question. - Oil Supplies". p. 560. Retrieved 2007-05-19.
This country is particularly affected by the present oil shortage ... The Government have, therefore, decided ... that the maximum speed limit on any road shall be 55 mph
- O'Donnell, Liz (1993-07-01). "Dáil Éireann - Volume 433: Road Traffic Bill, 1993: Second Stage (Resumed).". p. 921. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
Their 1992 survey showed up interesting attitudinal facts. 54 per cent of drivers correctly stated that the general speed limit was 55 miles per hour; 30 per cent believed the limit was higher than 55 miles per hour and 12 per cent believed it was less. This is an area of confusion as many people do not know the speed limit.
- Brennan, Séamus (2002-10-24). "Dáil Éireann - Volume 556: Written Answers. - Road Safety.". p. 442. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
A comprehensive review of speed limits was carried out in Ireland between 1990 and 1992. This left urban speed limits unchanged at 30 mph and 40 mph, but increased the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles from 40 mph to 50 mph and the general speed limit from 55 mph to 60 mph.
- "S.I. No. 194/1992: ROAD TRAFFIC (GENERAL AND ORDINARY SPEED LIMITS) REGULATIONS, 1992.". pp. §.5. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
- Road Traffic (Speed Limits) (County of Kildare) (Amendment) Regulations, 1992 - Irish Statute Book
- Road Traffic (Speed Limits) (County Borough of Dublin and County of Dublin) (Amendment) Regulations, 1992 - Irish Statute Book
- "ROAD TRAFFIC ACT, 1994 SECTION 31". Retrieved 2007-05-07.
- Local Government (Roads and Motorways) Act, 1974
- "International Experience". UK Metric Association. Archived from the original on 30 May 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
- (PDF) Road Traffic Act 2004 - Oireachtas Éireann
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