I am delighted to join you here today to launch the National Public Awareness Campaign dedicated to supporting the changeover to kilometres per hour.
The changeover to kilometres per hour from 20th January next, is one of the most significant events in the history of Irish motoring. To prepare for the full change to km/h, the Metrication Changeover Board was established in February 2004. The Board is comprised of representatives from all of the organisations that will be involved in the changeover in one way or another. The Metrication Changeover Board was charged with developing a comprehensive public awareness campaign to inform all road users of the change, the campaign we have come to see here today.
The 'Go Metric Go Safe' slogan that is used in the campaign encompasses the road safety message which I, and my colleagues in Government, continue to afford the highest priority. Achieving a world-class performance in road safety requires a range of effective policies to ensure a safe interaction between the roads, vehicles, drivers and other road users. In this regard our focus is on the key areas of speed, drink-driving and seat belt wearing in order to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads.
Excessive or inappropriate speed is one of the most critical factors in road collisions. The change to km/h speed limits on 20th January will, by enhancing awareness of speed limits generally, sharpen the focus on safety on our roads.
January 20th is the culmination of a process which has been in preparation for some time, commencing with the EU Measurements Directive.
The need to ensure that our speed limit structures were consistent with our improved road network and that they retained their central focus on safety prompted the Government to have a comprehensive review of speed limits carried out in 2003. A Working Group was established by my predecessor in February 2003 to examine existing speed limit polices and structures. This Group reported in October 2003, making a list of recommendations, which in turn formed part of the Road Traffic Act, 2004.
In addition, it was considered that there was a need for greater flexibility in the manner in which speed limits are applied. The application of the penalty points system to speed limit offences also gave further emphasis to the need for the speed limit system to be relevant. This is also reflected in the new Act.
The new Speed Limit structure
The new limits are on display here this morning. One aspect of the new Act I will focus on for a moment is the role for the public and locally elected councillors.
Under the new Act, the elected members of county and city councils will continue to have the power to make special Speed Limit Bye Laws to apply special speed limits within their areas. One of the strongest parts of the new Act is that for the first time the public will have a say in the setting of special speed limits by local authorities under the provisions the Road Traffic Act each local authority must have a public consultation process on proposals to make special speed limit bye-laws. This will make the application of special speed limits more transparent and relevant.
I believe that this aspect of the Act is invaluable and ensures that local representatives are in a position to respond to local concerns and views in a prompt manner.
Informing road users about the changes is vital to the success of the changeover. I know this is a view everyone involved shares strongly.
In advance of further presentations outlining the campaign, I would like to express my appreciation to all of those involved in this undertaking, especially to the members of the Metrication Changeover Board.
In addition to the National Safety Council who designed this public awareness campaign, the National Roads Authority, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, my own officials at the Department of Transport and the city and county councils who have responsibility for the programme for the provision of the new traffic signs. I would in particular like to acknowledge the contributions of the Gardai, the Automobile Association and the Society for the Irish Motor Industry.
In conclusion, the efforts to improve our road safety impact on families and communities right across the country. Improved road safety saves lives. The Government, partners such as the National Safety Council and road users are and must continue to play a part. I would like to acknowledge the Government's appreciation for those here today that continue to work with us to promote road safety. Furthermore, I join with many in urging road users to accept the personal responsibility that goes with using our roads.
And that from 20th January next, we will all 'Go metric and Go Safe'.