MORE than 4,400 accidents and incidents were reported on the country’s busiest motorway in a period of less than two years.
Crashes and breakdowns on Dublin’s M50 motorway regularly bring traffic to a standstill with lengthy queues a daily fact of life for city commuters.
The scale of problems on the ring road are revealed in a database of incidents, which show more than 200 reports of accidents, debris, tyre blow-outs, and other potentially lethal incidents every single month.
Thirty-one different “major incidents” have been reported since the beginning of last year with another 737 classified as “high priority” events.
The major incidents included collisions, breakdowns, vehicles on fire, and an instance of a cyclist or pedestrian on the road.
Some of the incidents caused chaos on the road for up to four hours, according to the database from Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
“High priority” events occurred at a rate of at least one per day with most of the problems caused by collisions, cars breaking down on the road, or debris on the road surface.
On four separate occasions, animals were spotted wandering the motorway, presenting a major risk to drivers on the busy road.
Cars were left abandoned dangerously on the M50 four times, the records showed, while there were eighteen separate “high priority” incidents involving cyclists or pedestrians on the road.
On one occasion, a dead animal was reported on the motorway and four times, a driver fell seriously ill while driving on the route.
Other incidents categorised as “high priority” included four occasions when there was a spillage of a truck’s load and one instance where a car was discovered to be driving the wrong direction on the motorway.
Sean O’Neill of Transport Infrastructure Ireland said the figures gave an insight into the challenges of managing the country’s busiest route.
He said: “As more people are using the road, [there is] statistically a greater chance of an incident happening. There has been a significant increase in the number of people using the road, 5 to 6% growth in line with economic activity.
“The impact of each event is also greater, because getting resources to an incident takes more time as we try to work with local authorities, gardai, and the fire brigade.”
Altogether, over 1,900 “moderate priority” incidents were also reported on the road along with more than 1,700 “low priority” events.
Breakdowns were the most common problem with 1,897 reported since the beginning of 2016, a rate of about three per day.
There were just over 1,000 collisions on the road, at least one a day, while debris on the road caused problems on 583 separate occasions.
Sixty one drivers ran out of fuel on the motorway while on thirty six separate occasions, a car went on fire on the road.
There were fifteen instances of drivers making emergency calls from the side of the road but giving no response once their call was put through.
Thirteen drivers got hopelessly lost and had to pull in to try and get directions on where they needed to go while five drivers reported witnessing “illegal activities” on the route.
There was one hazardous chemical incident reported and one instance of anti-social behaviour in the incident database.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland said many of the more minor incidents would be largely invisible to the public but that the more serious ones can cause “significant disruption”.
They said they had live services on the network stationed along the route who are ready to respond to incidents as quickly as possible.
Sean O’Neill said: “People are hopping on and hopping off the M50. Sometimes they use it as a rat run around the local network. It is a really challenging but manageable national road. It’s the most critical economic corridor in the country.”
While traffic levels are unlikely to decline and with extra tolling on the route already ruled out by government, Transport Infrastructure Ireland is instead planning variable speed limits at the busiest times.
“What that means is you can inform the driver in real time to tell them to get into another lane,” said Mr O’Neill, “and during rush hour in the morning and the evening, we will regulate traffic flow at a speed, maybe 60, 70, or 80 kilometres per hour.
“It’s the theory of when slower is faster. You are diminishing the chances of an incident happening and it is those incidents which screw everything up. We need a consistent flow of traffic, even if it is a little bit slower.”
They said that system should be up and running in early 2020 but that in the meantime, drivers needed to be sensible during busy traffic, “self-regulate” their speed and in particular avoid “rubbernecking” incidents when they do occur.