wife and I were looking over photos from 1978 and we couldn't figure out what
was so weird about the familiar street scene outside her family home. Then,
it struck us. There were no cars!
Automobile ownership was extremely low in Ireland
well into the 1980's. But, the ongoing economic boom that started in the mid
1990's certainly changed that statistic.
Traffic in and out of Dublin
is a constant source of anguish for tens of thousands of commuters.
Every major city experiences rush hour delays. Even small towns
of a few thousand inhabitants are experiencing big tailbacks
when school closing time hits and buses and parents are stacked
up and down the town streets.
Parking is an ever greater problem
and peripheral parking areas that drivers ignored just a few
years ago now fill up early in the morning. Almost every town
larger than 3,000 people has had to devise a parking and traffic
management plan. One way streets proliferate and no-parking zones
No problem, though. The no-parking
zones are regularly ignored by trucks unloading supplies for
town stores and drivers just "running in" to a local
The roads of Ireland - mostly
laid down centuries ago for the movement of farm carts and donkeys
- are under strain. So, the government has embarked on a huge,
multi-billion, multi-year upgrade of the national road system.
"Ring Roads" designed to bypass the towns of Ireland
are gradually being upgraded. Money is being spent on the ancient
railroad system and the buses are getting a share of the funding.
But, it's the car that carries the load these
days. Despite petrol prices that are punitive at well over € 5 per gallon,
cars dominate the Irish transportation system.
In this section, I provide the
information you need to know about running a car in Ireland.
Ireland's Driving Problem
Ireland's deadly road problems really stem from three facets of Irish culture that aren't going to change soon. First, the population is young. So, there's a big new generation of macho males on the roads.
Those roads are substandard. Even the main highways are mostly two lane, and country roads were designed for donkeys - not speeding teenagers.
Finally, the guys are using those roads to get to and from the place where most socializing in this country happens - the pub.
The Points System
There are two principal causes of car accidents and road deaths in Ireland. Number 1 is excessive speed. Number two is drink driving. As you might expect, in many cases speed and drink go hand in hand.
In October 2002, the Minister of Transport announced the immediate beginning of a penalty point system so that repeat offenders can be identified and barred from driving. Speeding drivers now receive on the spot fines of 80 euro and 2 penalty points on their licence. A total of 12 penalty points over three years and the driver is barred from driving for 6 months.
Controversially, if a driver challenges a ticket and loses, the penalty points automatically ratchet up from 2 to 4 and possible fines can reach 800 Euro. The idea is to prevent total meltdown of the court system. If everyone challenged every ticket... no penalty points for guessing the outcome.
In 2003, penalty points were also added for failure to wear seat belts. Since then, an ever increasing litany of road offenses were added to the list. For a complete list of all road offences and penalty point offences, check out the government information service Driving offences page.
That said, the number of road deaths went up dramatically since the introduction of the penalty points. Why? Enforcement is all but non-existent. There are a few well known speed traps where the Garda hang out - mostly the better built sections of highways where road speeds have been set too low. And outside these well flagged spots? Well, if cows could talk there's be lots more folks off the road.
As we head through 2010, the mayhem continues. We were promised hundreds of more speed cameras for the last decade, but the watchword appears to be "slowly, slowly". In late 2009, the government finally acknowledged that stressed funds would not extend to buying the cameras anytime soon.
Random Breath Testing
One thing that has made a difference is random breath testing. The Garda are now allowed to pull anyone and everyone over for a test without first having to prove due cause. More than 30,000 random breath tests per month are being administered and this, at least, has made some inroads into the road deaths rate.
Penalty Points Anomalies
As I explain on the Licences page, drivers from EU nations may continue to use their overseas licence until it expires. You could end up driving for 10 years in Ireland on, say, a Latvian licence. So what happens if you're given two penalty points?
Well, you'll pay a fine. If your driving has been criminally reckless, the courts can still impose a fine or sentence. And, if you do get around to exchanging your licence for an Irish one, you'll find those penalty points suddenly count. A record is kept of each penalty and when the day of exchange finally dawns, you'll be hit with the lot of them in one go.
But, you may be the worst speed demon in western Europe and you'll not receive any penalty points until your old licence is exchanged. Recognising this problem, the EU is talking about greater harmonisation throughout the 25 nations. But, that's not going to happen till compatible computer systems are in place. And that won't happen for quite, quite some time.
You old scofflaws, you! Go on and thumb your nose at the penalty points and laugh at your Irish neighbours when they get disqualified.
Penalty Points Online
Penaltypoints.ie gives a general breakdown of the countrywide statistics for penalty points. More important, it goes into some detail about what transgressions result in penalty points.
If you've been a bad boy or girl, you might get so many penalty you can't even keep track of them. Santee will be bringing you a big lump of coal for your stocking!
How do you keep track of your excesses? I called my local Garda/Police station to find out. I was told that you call your local Motor Tax Office and give them your licence number. They check their database and give you the bad news. That database is NOT online, I was told, so you can't check over the net.
The Penalty Point Offence EVERYONE! Ignores
Here's what the law says: "a person shall not while driving a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place hold a mobile phone". Either Ireland has vehicles propelled by wishful thinking, or nine out of ten road users are breaking the law.
When the police bother to enforce this one, it's like shooting pigeons from 3 inches. They can't miss! Too bad they mostly don't bother.
As Pure as a Newborn Baby
Because of those non-talking computers, any penalties on your foreign licence will not be transferred to your new Irish one. Talk about being able to start over! Here's a real life "clean slate."
The Full Site
Includes important advice for left side drivers, some auto rental rules affecting senior citizens and some info on trailers and bike racks.