Kevin O’Donnell says drivers often rush right through red lights at the junction to turn off the main road into the smaller street where his kids’ school is in Coolock.

“Could be vans, could be cars – bikes, you don’t need to worry about, to be honest,” he says. “It’s led to a couple of worrying incidents.”

It’s been a persistent problem for years, O’Donnell says. He says he’s been going to and from Gaelscoil Cholmcille for a decade, and currently has three kids there.

Does he ever see any enforcement by gardáí? “No,” O’Donnell says.

This is not an isolated situation. Videos taken at intersections across the city – from Dundrum to Cork Street, Westland Row to Donaghmede – in March documented 181 instances of road users breaking red lights. And no enforcement.

The videos showed 89 car drivers, 49 cyclists, 38 pedestrians, two people on e-scooters, two bus drivers and one motorcyclist ignoring red lights. This wasn’t a scientific study, so these can’t be taken as an indication of who breaks red lights more across the city.

But what these videos do show is that none of these red-light breakers were stopped by gardaí. If they had been, the penalty for failing to obey traffic lights is €80 and three penalty points if paid within 28 days.

Gardaí did not respond to questions on whether they believe breaking red lights creates safety risks for road users, whether they seek to enforce, and whether they believe the observed lack of enforcement creates a culture of impunity among road users.

The RSA’s latest monthly penalty point statistics, for December, show 17 notices issued for “driving past a red light” in County Dublin, and 5,634 for “Fail to obey traffic lights”. When asked what the difference was, the RSA referred the question to the Gardaí, where a spokesperson said he wasn’t sure but would try to find out.

A Dublin city councillor says she thinks shifting responsibility for enforcing some road-traffic violations – such as red-light breaking – to the council would be a good idea. And a council spokesperson said the council would be happy to help roll-out a system of red-light cameras.


Although O’Donnell doesn’t see gardaí stopping cars that break the red lights near his kids’ school, that doesn’t bother him.

“I personally wouldn’t blame the Gardaí,” he says. “I’m not one of those ‘Put a cop on every corner’ types.”

“That’s not a realistic approach to policing in the twenty-first century,” O’Donnell says.

These days, there are red-light cameras, he says, and they’ve been tested in Dublin years ago. “The technology is there, we have it.”

Red light cameras could monitor junctions, record people breaking red lights, and then they can be identified and penalised via their number plates.

This would not work on e-scooters, cyclists, or pedestrians – unless they were at some point required to have number plates too.

But buses, vans, SUVs, cars and other motor vehicles should be the priority for enforcement anyway, says David Timoney of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.

There is a huge difference between a 1.5-ton box of metal and plastic breaking a red light, and a person on a bicycle breaking a red light, he says.

“They’re not comparable from a kind of like, a danger perspective,” he says. “It might be an irritant if a cyclist goes through a red light, but they’re not really a danger in the same way.”

Even when no one is physically hurt by drivers breaking red lights – or speeding – this kind of dangerous driving can make parents too wary to let their kids walk or cycle to school, says Mairéad Forsythe, a campaigner with Dublin Cycling Campaign.

“Modern parents feel that they’re at risk from motor vehicles, and therefore they drive them, compounding the problem,” she says. “What we would like to see is safer routes to school and safer areas around schools.”

Deterring drivers from speeding is at least as important as deterring them from breaking red lights, says Timoney. “In fact, I think speeding is a bigger issue than breaking red lights.”

Whither Red-Light Cameras

Whether it’s enforcing the rules on stopping at red lights, or on obeying the speed limit, installing cameras could help, say O’Donnell, Timoney, and Forsythe.

There is also the question of enforcing bus lanes by penalising private motor vehicles that use them when they’re not supposed to – which bus drivers say is critical to keeping the bus network flowing smoothly.

Rolling out red-light cameras in Dublin is something that’s been in the works for years.

A 2015 press release from the National Transport Authority (NTA) announced the installation of “Ireland’s first automated Red Light Camera System”.

Put in at the Blackhall Place/Benburb Street junction in Smithfield, it was meant to prevent collisions between cars breaking red lights, and the Luas.

“The system captures images of motorists breaking red lights, their licence plate numbers and other data allowing An Garda Siochána to pursue offenders under the Road Traffic Acts,” the press release says.

However, that installation was just an 18-month pilot project, Hugh Creegan, the NTA’s deputy chief executive, wrote in a 2020 email released under the Freedom of Information Act to Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan.

“The larger permanent operation has to be publicly advertised for tendering purposes,” he wrote.

The next year, 2021, the government’s road safety strategy for 2021–2024 “phase 1 action plan” included a plan to “Further develop camera-based enforcement by the Gardaí, including at junctions and for management of bus/ cycle lanes” by Q4 2022.

That hasn’t happened yet. But the NTA has taken the lead on making it happen, an NTA spokesperson said.

“While a pilot installation was undertaken a few years ago at Blackhall Place on the Luas Red line, it has been recognised that tendering for equipment and services for just one or two isolated junctions would not provide a system that would be scalable contractually to cover other junctions, other areas and other offence types,” the NTA spokesperson said.

So the government has established a working group. “The NTA has been requested to Chair a Working Group to assess and make recommendations in relation to the further extension of camera-based enforcement,” the spokesperson said.

“Work needs to be done by the Working Group to identify the scale and ambit of the overall camera enforcement system, which will then allow the appropriate structuring of the procurement process,” the spokesperson said.

“Effectively, an overall strategy for this type of camera-based enforcement needs to be developed which will enable a planned approach to procurement, installation and operation,” they said.

In addition to the NTA, the working group includes the Department of Transport, the Gardaí, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the County and City Management Association, the spokesperson said.

“It is expected that the Working Group will conclude its work and bring forward recommendations for consideration in the second half of 2023,” they said.

Who Would Run the Cameras?

At the same time as the working group mulls over a strategy, new legislation is on the way, said a spokesperson from the Department of Transport.

Legislation is in place that lets the guards use red-light cameras and speed cameras, the spokesperson said.

The Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021, which has passed the Dáil and is now before the Seanad, “contains provisions to underpin the use of CCTV by road authorities – i.e. local authorities – and by TII, and also for the sharing of the images captured with the Garda”.

“It specifies that the information from these cameras may be used ‘the deterrence, prevention, investigation and detection of criminal offences, including road traffic offences’”, the spokesperson said.

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said she’d like to see Dublin City Council manage a system of traffic violation detection cameras.

“No doubt there would be an argument as to what department would collect and retain the fines,” she said.

But given the council’s need for more funding, Gilliland would like to see it manage the system and keep the fines, she said. “Similar to how we manage parking fines.”

At the moment, Dublin City Council has “no role in the detection of moving offences which are a matter for an Garda Siochana”, a council spokesperson said.

But “Dublin City Council will be happy to provide on street enforcement cameras in conjunction with AGS [An Garda Síochána] and the NTA in order to assist in the better enforcement of road traffic offences”, they said.

Handing this aspect of road-traffic enforcement over to the council could “allow our Gardaí to focus on other duties where their physical presence is required, so resources are freed up, if you like”, Gilliland said.

“Such a shift would require significant investment but some of this could be off-set from the fines if they were set high enough,” she said.

Join the Conversation


  1. Ignoring red lights is so wide-spread that a few cameras aren’t going to have much effect, and having a camera at every side of every junction is not feasible. You’re going to have to change the mindset of Irish drivers.
    The way traffic lights are run doesn’t help either. They may claim to have this SCATS system, but for the most part traffic lights run fixed time cycles (how often do you sit at a red light, looking at an empty junction while the main road has endless green and no traffic?) and long all-red periods between phases.
    That, combined with the zero-enforcement policy adopted by the Gardai means that there’s almost zero risk for drivers breaking red lights.

  2. What surprises me the most is the total lack of Traffic Signal Countdown Timers (TSCTs). That’s the single most useful tool that helps motorists make timely decisions when approaching an intersection with traffic lights. In fact, my driving instructor back home in India always asked me to plan my speed based on the time displayed on the TSCTs. On one hand, the driving theory test is obsessed with calculation of stopping distance in dry vs wet road conditions but on the other, there is a total absence of the most useful device that can prevent sudden braking and screeching halts. I’m sure installation of TSCTs can improve traffic light compliance.

  3. How deluded and typical of a cyclist to say they aren’t a danger to anyone when they run a red light. I’m a traffic warden and the majority of offenders ARE cyclists and e-scooters and e-bikes with absolutely no regard for children crossing the road and definitely no regard for a traffic warden in high viz from head to toe with a stop sign and they still cycle through them. They fully believe the rules of the road don’t adhere to them. Yet drivers have to pay road tax to pay for cycle lanes that cyclists still don’t use. The only danger on the roads for cyclists are themselves. Very few wear high viz especially at night or dark winter days and have no lights or mirrors or safety helmets on. Grow up.

    1. Why do you lot always blame cyclist? Car owners are the main offerers just by the amount of cars on the road every day I see cars breaking lights in what is a killing machine so wake up and smell the coffee!!!

    2. Funny that you’re a warden, but fail to see that everyone pays for roads, cycle lanes and pathways etc through general taxation. Road tax is now motor tax and it only generates 900 million a year from all vehicles.

      Funding for roads and infrastructure comes from the exchequer, so this idea that only drivers pay for the roads is utter rubbish.

      People ignoring the laws no matter what their choice of transport is, needs to be addressed.

  4. As someone who either walks, cycles or drives along the grand canal on my daily commute, the behaviour of road users has drastically worsened this past year. This morning alone I witnessed multiple cars, cyclists and scooters breaking red lights, motorbikes and mopeds in the cycle lane, yellow boxes being blocked on Leeson St bridge, and 3 cars making an illegal right turn from Baggot St bridge onto Mespil Rd almost hitting the pedestrians who were crossing with a green light. With the lack of enforcement by all parties, that ‘culture of impunity’ mentioned in the article is growing.

    1. Nothing changes, eh? Pre-pandemic, I walked or cycled this whole route daily, to work and back home. Prided myself on following the lights. Over one 2-week period, a car broke the lights at every bridge/junction. The pattern was only broken at the end of the third week. In that time, I saw so many near misses that could have been tragic – the worst was a taxi driver almost colliding with a wheelchair user crossing on the green man; I complained to the taxi driver, who hurled verbal abuse at me. I would also say that a number of cyclists were also offenders, unfortunately; one almost hit an elderly man crossing, and when I caught up with the cyclist to politely point this out, he threatened repeatedly to punch me in the face.

      I think, too much, the RSA and Government are treating the symptoms and not the causes. Enforcement is essential, but a change in mindset among drivers especially, rooted in changing *values* is essential.

      I’m a recently qualified driver, late in life, and always have it in my mind that I’m basically driving a *weapon*. Because, up against a pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, wheelchair user, elderly person, child, dog, whatever, that’s what I am.

      We need to shift the culture, and I’m shocked how much bad driving there is out there. I can see how behaviour slips the moment you get that license and begin taking other drivers’ behaviour as ‘normal’. ‘If they’re doing it, why can’t I?’

  5. Traffic regulation systems Vs traffic development strategy. No need to re-invent the wheel, just to have a look for different soultions other countries have employed and decide which one would be of better use for Ireland.
    Traffic regulation systems, in particular, traffic lights need to be optimized more. Already existing step-on sensors in combination with cameras can end unnecessary waiting on junctions. Example: open the branch of the junction where cars are waiting and close where there are no cars. There are cameras, only applying software is needed. Software can tell the difference between car, bus, truck and a cyclist and hence – can give way according to set priorities for the road in question.
    As well, if there is a public transport bus that’s approaching traffic lights but junction is about to b closed, system can keep it open so bus does pass the junction safely. Numerous other benefits from a simple fix – apply better suites software regulation on traffic lights, based on cameras and step-on sensors and have fixed-time cycles system as a backup.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *