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Motorway lay-bys: Insufficient provision of service areas is putting drivers at risk

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

TII has closed motorway lay-bys to private drivers following new EU regulations, despite a lack of alternative service areas.

Photo by Kyle Bushnell on Unsplash

Transport Infrastructure Ireland’s (TII) Service Area Policy 2023, published last December, effectively closed all motorway lay-bys to private road users. Since the start of 2024, these rest areas are now limited to HGVs and professional drivers, while members of the public must use the nearest available service area.

This new policy came as an update to the 2014 policy which advocated for the use of lay-bys as rest areas due to a lack of motorway services at the time. Before the recent policy change was introduced, there were 29 lay-bys nationwide open to all drivers, with a further 20 Garda enforcement areas which were gated and locked, unless being used by the Garda.

The measure to close lay-bys to private road users was driven by recent updates to European policy. A proposal to amend the Trans-European Transport Networks Regulation was accepted by the European Commission in 2022, setting out the aim that by 2040, “rest areas are available along roads of the core and extended core network at a maximum distance of 60 km from each other.”

TII, following this update, proceeded to introduce their new policy with the rationale that the majority of current service areas fall within this 60 km benchmark. Since the 2014 policy, there has been an increase in the number of service areas, with 18 areas currently available for use on primary roads in Ireland.

However, there are multiple examples where motorway services in Ireland do not meet these criteria. Most notably, there is a distance of 138 km between Birdhill Applegreen in County Tipperary and Tuam in Galway. If a driver were to take the route along the M7/M18, there would be nowhere to stop and rest on that journey.

Supermac’s Past McDonagh secured planning permission in 2022 to build a plaza in Ennis at exit 12 along the M18. This plaza is expected to be open in 2025, however work on the site is yet to begin.

The M3 is another route lacking in a service area. TII originally planned to have services available in Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath by 2019. No progress has been made on these plans. TII have since confirmed that they had suspended all work on Dunshaughlin services in 2020, and the situation won’t be reviewed until 2027.

Meanwhile, planning permission was granted to Applegreen in July 2023 for a service area built to the north-east of M3 J6 at Knock. This area will compete directly with any state-owned Dunshaughlin services, if TII’s plans eventually materialise.

“If you feel tired while driving, don’t ignore the signs”. – RSA

-RSA

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) warns against the effects fatigue can have on drivers. According to a European Road Safety Observatory report on fatigue, it is a major factor in a large proportion of road traffic collisions (10-20%) and is associated with increased crash risk. Fatigue leads to slower reaction times, poor steering and a reduced ability to keep a sufficient distance from the vehicle in front.

The report also emphasises how accidents caused by fatigue are more likely to result in a death or serious injury as drivers are unable to slow down or swerve. If a driver is suffering from fatigue, the RSA advises that they stop to rest.

Until there is a sufficient number of service areas on Ireland’s motorway network, however, there may be situations where a driver will not see a rest area for over 100 km. When consulted on the 2023 policy, RSA failed to address this issue to TII.

In email correspondence, a director of RSA outlined their safety reasoning to a member of TII, stating that the decision, “relates to safe entry and exit from these lay-bys and how their current usage escalates risks experienced by those using either the lay-by (driver or passenger) or those using the roads in close proximity to the lay-by”.

The director further wrote, “the RSA notes that concerns about driver fatigue or distracted driving may form part of any community response to the proposed changes”.

                      Photo by G-R Mottez on Unsplash

“The closing of the lay-bys on motorways by TII flies in the face of their own advice not to drive if you are tired.”

– Seán Canney TD

Independent TD for Tuam Seán Canney has been an outspoken critic of TII’s new policy. In a public letter, he addressed What he saw as the failings of TII.

“I have criticized TII for their decision to close the lay-bys on the motorways to cars despite their advice to drivers not to drive if tired. It makes no sense and I see daily the number of cars that use the layby to break their journey.

“Tiredness kills but someone in an office somewhere has decided that the everyday drivers should not pull into a lay-by for a rest in the future.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Niall Blaney has also expressed his dissatisfaction with the new policy, highlighting Ireland’s quality of motorway networks as a problem. “These laws have come from the EU but not every country is the same. Certainly, we wouldn’t have the extensive motorway network that others do and for Ireland’s terrain and network this does not suit.”

“I think it’s absolutely ludicrous at a time when road deaths are on the rise. It goes against the messaging of TII and RSA, which tells motorists all the time to pull in and take a nap and take a rest”.

Last year had the highest number of road deaths in nearly a decade, with 188 fatalities. 2023 also saw an increase in the number of fatalities among younger drivers between the ages of 16-25, one of the demographics most likely to be affected by fatigue as stated by the RSA. With over 60 road deaths already in 2024, closing motorway lay-bys without sufficient service areas available will only increase risks to drivers. Both TII and the RSA failed to respond when asked to comment on the new policy.

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