Road Etiquette in Ireland
The Boreen The boreen is a back-road one step up from a cowpath in engineering terms. In fact many boreens were just cowpaths with some gravel or tarmac thrown over it. For anyone unfamiliar with cows and their travelling habits, their directional habits are somewhat erratic. Much of the Irish road infrastructure is comprised of boreens, and carries all types of traffic. Unfortunately for the unprepared, the boreen is a very intimidating place. Many visitors have been known to abandon their cars, running and screaming through the fields. They have often have recurring nightmares for many years afterwards and many need professional counselling. Most cars and trucks can go down them.. In one direction only. Be prepared to have much of your paintwork removed as you drive into the hedge to allow another car to pass. Progress is often impeded by larger trucks and tractors, where you must reverse until you find a gate or other spot where the road widens. Note: the larger vehicle always has the right of way! Two steps forward and one step back is the motto here.

Dual Carriageways and Motorways Motorways in Ireland are a rather new phenomenon, and many motorists drive on them with some fear and bewilderment. Some are unsure of how to behave on them, probably because until very recently there was no mention of them in any rules of the road. Most however just treat them the same as dual carriageways. In the UK there are very clear rules about what you can and cannot do on a motorway, but these rules do not apply here. Parking on the hard shoulder is permitted. You may overtake in whichever lane has least traffic. When approaching a roundabout you may make every possible effort to get in front of the cars ahead before entering the roundabout. Dual carriageways on the other hand have been around for quite some time, but many motorists haven't grasped how to drive on them properly yet. Many do not realise that there is a differentiation between lanes, namely the inside lane is for faster vehicles overtaking. It is not uncommon to find yourself in the inside lane following a foul-smelling rustbucket going at 30mph, while the rest of the world is passing you on the outside at 70mph+. Changing lanes is simpler on motorways/dual carriageways. Simply look over your shoulder at the lane you wish to turn onto and if it is not occupied then move into it quickly. Make sure not to use your indicators, as explained below.

Overtaking Overtaking is a complex process and involves much communication by the passer and passee. Firstly the passer indicates their intention to pass by driving as close to the person in front as possible. If the passee does not respond by pulling into the hard shoulder, the passer flashes their headlamps, further indicating his/her desire to pass. Oncoming traffic, corners or solid white lines are of no consequence - the only limiting factor is that the two cars can fit side by side on the tarmac between the wall/ditch and the oncoming traffic. Once the passee has pulled over, the passer can pass. If the passee has been courteous and pulled over in anticipation of being passed, the passer then flashes his/her hazard lights as a gesture of thanks. The passee can flash his/her headlamps in acknowledgement.

Parking Hazard warning lights are used here too, to say that the owner is only gone for a minute and will move the illegally parked car shortly. Leaving the engine running indicates greater urgency and it is not uncommon to also leave the car door open, especially when the closing time for submitting Lotto (national lottery) payslips is approaching. Note: this is usually only suitable for rural towns, in Dublin, car thieves are very persistent and have even been known to fix totally banjaxed cars in order to steal them. In towns without traffic wardens it is customary to maximise the parking spaces by parking three, sometimes more, cars deep. This is known as double parking. When looking for a parking space, the procedure is to drive slowly (< 5mph) along the street you wish to park on. If no space is currently available, decrease your speed until you spot someone ahead leaving a parking space. Do not indicate when turning into a parking space - it is better to keep the drivers behind on their toes.

Indicators Indicators are a special case in Ireland. They must not be used even under pain of death. If one feels you absolutely must use them, then it is appropriate to use them to signal past actions, not intent as is the norm in other countries. The vast majority of Irish motorists do not know how to indicate properly when going through a roundabout so they adhere to the rule of not using them. Please be courteous and do not confuse the drivers by indicating in a roundabout. Indicators should be preserved instead for the more important task as the hazard warning lights. See overtaking and parking on the correct usage of these.

Yellow Boxes Yellow boxes are a series of criss-cross painted yellow lines on the road, usually near traffic lights etc. These indicate the correct place to stop while waiting at a red traffic light.

Traffic Lights The sequence of lights is much the same as in other countries - red, yellow and green. However, these lights have different meanings here. Green is go as usual. Yellow means accelerate so you can get through before, or shortly after it turns red. Red means stop, unless you are a motorbike/bike courier turning left, in which case it's ok to 'sneak' into the flow of traffic.

Speed Limits The maximum speed limits in Ireland are officially 60mph on main roads, 70mph on motorways and 30mph in towns. These limits are only useful when you think you are approaching a speed trap. Actual speed limits are determined by how fast you can go and keep the car on the road at the same time. Ireland has a community speed trap early warning system in operation. When a driver spots a speed trap, he/she flashes furiously at oncoming motorists for several miles past the speed trap. If several oncoming cars flash at you, and it's not a wedding, then there is probably a speed trap ahead so reduce your speed until you are out of range again. Recently, the Gardai have been issued with hand-held radar guns and hide behind lampposts so their cover is not blown. In truth the government issued several thousand empty cases that resemble a radar gun which saved a lot of money. Real radar guns are not needed since all cars drive in excess of the speed limit, so the Gardai just take their pick. A new scheme to increase the income of the low-paid Garda has been introduced whereby the traditional rigmarole of serving summons on those caught speeding are done away with. Instead there is now an option of paying 50 on the spot to the Garda hardship fund. This also serves as a commission system, whereby the more speeders caught means more income for the plod on the street.

Sidewalks These are the paved bits at the side of the road. Mainly for use by pedestrians, but also used for such things as: Parking on Going the wrong way down a one way street, if on a motorbike. This is especially true of motorcycle couriers who think it's somehow more suitable to drive on the path in the wrong direction The dog equivalent of a litter tray.

Pedestrian Crossings There are three types of pedestrian crossing in Ireland: The Pelican Crossing: the bit in front of the traffic lights which is also reserved for bikes and motorbikes waiting on a red traffic light. The Zebra Crossing: denoted by thick black and white stripes on the road plus a pair of yellow flashing globe-type lights at either side. More recently these lights have been augmented by high intensity, flashing orange lights to blind drivers approaching the crossing. Zebra crossings are generally used where the local council were unable to afford traffic lights for a pelican crossing. Everywhere else: Ireland does not have any jaywalking laws, so cross wherever and whenever you like! How could you give a jaywalking ticket to a sheep anyway?

Livestock Once you have managed to leave the snarled-up traffic jam that is Dublin, major obstacles on the roads include animals of various descriptions. Due to the recent hardship of the farming community caused by reduced headage payments, more and more farmers are forced to graze their animals on the roadside hedges (see "Boreen"). Some parts of Ireland do not have ditches or fences to prevent animals from wandering onto the roadway. A bit like Australia, only a lot wetter and colder. Sheep have discovered that black objects absorb solar radiation better than say, white or green things. Hence you have these ribbons of warmth running through the bleak, windswept countryside providing comfort to the animals living there. Unfortunately to humans, these ribbons are known as "national routes". If your vehicle is not equipped with bullbars, expect extensive front bumper damage from sheep sleeping on roadways. Livestock on roadways are not only confined to the country, however. Many areas of Dublin have residents who are quite delusional, and believe it is possible to keep a fully grown horse as a household pet. Of course it is necessary to put these animals out to do their business occasionally, whereupon they head for the nearest dual carriageway to exercise.

Road Signs A few notes about direction signs: These come in all shapes, sizes in colors. The original direction signs are black and white 'arrows' on striped poles. The unfortunate thing about these signs is that they are clamped to a round pole so they also double as a swing for drunken students returning home. Unfortunately for the motorist, these rarely point in the right direction because of this. The distance quoted on these are in miles. More recently, there are bigger aluminium black and white signs with two clamps, which make very bad swings, but better for motorists. These too are in miles. There are also white and green signs which come in several shapes and many sizes, but unlike the previous two signs, the placenames are sometimes in english only. Some patriotic vandals (yes, that is indeed a contradiction in terms - these people probably have "tomo" or "micko" tattooed to their forhead in case they forget their name) decided to spray-paint out the english version of the name. These signs are in kilometers, a well known Irish-developed system of measurement, so the distance isn't spray-painted out. On the new motorways, there are even newer blue signs, which thankfully haven't been vandalised. Yet.. Touristy signs with touristy information are camouflage-brown so that they blend in with the scenery in touristy spots. Unfortunately this make them almost impossible to see when driving along. In the last year or two there have been small yellow signs with cryptic codes placed at regular intervals on national routes. There has been much speculation as to the purpose of these. They are of course waypoint markers for the alien invasion due on the 23rd November 1997 at a secret site in Co. Leitrim.

Conversion between kilometers per deci-hour (the metric standard 10 hours per day) to imperial mph (not US statute miles, these are different again) is quite easy, simply multiply the value in Kmdh by 0.15E013, divide by the gravitational constant plus the current distance from earth to uranus's third moon in milipicojoulefarads and you have your speed in mph. Your friendly petrol station attendant will be glad to show you how to do this, it gives them a chance to practice their junior cert remedial maths for which they are studying.

Road System Experiments Ireland in recent years seems to have become a testing ground for bizzare road experiments of various types. Invariably these experiments are put into common use, being used for every imaginable application, whether it suits or not. Sometimes the roads authority have realized their mistakes, sometimes not.

The first major experiment to go badly wrong was the roundabout. The roads authority discovered that roundabouts were dead handy because they were cheaper than traffic lights or an overpass, didn't use electricity and gave the illusion that you were getting somewhere. The problem was that the road planners went berserk and put roundabouts everywhere. Maintaining a decent speed on a dual carriageway is hard when you have a roundabout every 100 meters.

Next there were the new sort of speed bumps - the kind you can drive over at speed without the car chassis breaking in two. These were fine, because it also had the added effect of waking up sleeping drivers before entering a roundabout. The problem with these is that the slower you go, the more noisy (and noticeable) they are. In turn, drivers have learned to drive over them faster to prevent damage to their suspension system. More recently these have been replaced by the more passive wide yellow stripes across the width of the roadway, now that the roads authority have learned the error of their ways.

The latest experiment to be conducted on the Irish guinea pig driver are a new sort of "speed control" when approaching a built up area. note: built up areas include villages with just two pubs and a shop. Firstly, they build about a hundred meters of sidewalk with a raised island between to squeeze the traffic into single file. At the entrance they put up several poles and assorted leftover signs which look like a bunch of spare signs dug out of the back of the corporation shed. Several signs with the village/town name are placed at the top projecting into the roadway, lest you forget the name of the place you are now cursing through clenched teeth. They also top the poles with zebra crossing style lights to trick the motorist into thinking there may be pedestrians crossing ahead. The centre island is fortified by a heavy-gauge steel pole to ensure that any overtakers in it's path are stopped rather abruptly. This particular menace is catching on quite well lately, especially since it is a lot cheaper than the badly-needed bypass it substitutes for, plus it satisfies the road authority's sadistic tendencies. These could be mistaken for border crossing barriers, the easy way to distinguish between them is that the speed controls don't have concrete bunkers beside them with machine guns pointing at you.

The Law and You The general rule is: if you can do something without being seen by a Garda or don't crash into something, it's OK.