Low bridges give Irish drivers a crash course

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The Independent Online

The Irish authorities have tried a whole battery of measures, including television advertising, website warnings and distributing maps to the industry and individual firms.

So far nothing seems to have stopped Irish lorry drivers becoming wedged under bridges. And it is becoming a major safety and transport problem.

The occasional misjudgment of head-room would be understandable, but in the Irish Republic such incidents are alarmingly frequent, given that all bridges are height-marked by law.

There have been 52 "hits" this year, and almost 700 over the past five years. One particular bridge has been struck 70 times.

Although no one has been killed for many years, bridge strikes often require costly repairs and can cause major road and rail disruption. This is especially the case in Dublin, which is already a highly congested city.

But the Irish rail authorities have decided in their frustration that a programme of public information is not enough. They have resortedto name-calling. When a heavy goods vehicle crashed into a Dublin bridge last week, Barry Kenny of Iarnrod Eireann declared: "It'sgross stupidity not being aware of the height of the bridge."

He added: "The problem has accelerated quite badly. Another bridge that is regularly struck is 3.26 metres. It's absolutely insane that somebody could be stupid enough to hit that bridge."

Jimmy Quinn of the Irish Road Hauliers' Association takes no great exception to this assessment. "You know, ultimately he's right, there's no argument about that," he responded. "It's down to carelessnesson the driver's behalf.

"Anybody who's driving round a vehicle and doesn't know its height is stupid. That's a bald fact and only an idiot would try to defend that."

He added: "Our mission among our people is to educate them to the dangers of it and to make sure that they are properly trained, although it is up to Irish rail to idiot-proof the thing so far as they can."

Both sides agree that the problems are caused by a small minority of road users, often those who use low-loaders to carry loads of differing heights.

And the problem cannot blamed on drivers from abroad, as a survey has shown that 90 per cent of the drivers involved in bridge incidents are from the Republic.

Laser technology is now being introduced as a pilot scheme at two bridges which are regularly struck by lorries. Placed ahead of the bridges, the laser will detect vehicles which are too high and set off flashing warning lights.

This, it is hoped, will deter at least some of those drivers who, whatever the risks, see no limits to the heights of stupidity.