Aquaplaning concerns raised again following Limerick motorway tragedy

'There's an issue in bad weather – when wind and rain is coming across the bog'

Donal O'Regan


Donal O'Regan


Aquaplaning concerns raised again following Limerick motorway tragedy

Crews carry out repair works following the fatal accident Picture: Michael Cowhey

THE TRAGIC fatality and multiple vehicle collision on the M7 during a freak hailstorm last week have again raised concerns over aquaplaning.

Several accidents and collisions involving up to a dozen vehicles occurred around the same time on Wednesday. One man died after his car left the road and crashed down an embankment between Birdhill and Castletroy. No other vehicle was involved.

Exactly a year ago, Tipperary councillor Hughie McGrath called on the TII to carry out a safety audit of the section between Birdhill and Castletroy over fears of aquaplaning. He said he has received an increasing number of reports from drivers “concerned about water lodging, sitting on the road and causing aquaplaning”.

“It seems to sit too long, it doesn’t drain away,” said Cllr McGrath.

Aquaplaning by the tyres of a road vehicle occurs when a layer of water builds between the wheels and the road surface, leading to a loss of traction that prevents the vehicle from responding to control inputs.

Mr McGrath said there has been a number of accidents on that stretch and he believes, from the descriptions, that some were partly caused by aquaplaning. 

Then last May, Limerick law firm Keating Connolly Sellors confirmed they have taken up the case of a young man who lost control of his car on the M7 — allegedly due to aquaplaning. 

The motorist was travelling on the Birdhill to Castletroy section of motorway on November 13, 2015, when water allegedly caused his car to aquaplane, lose control and skid into the crash barrier.

In total, five cars were involved in five separate incidents in the space of 30 minutes on one mile of motorway, they say.

Ronan Hynes, of Keating Connolly Sellers, said it is evident that there is a dangerous problem with this part of the M7.

“There have been numerous reported incidents at this spot and ultimately it is the driver’s insurance company that is liable for the associated costs,” said Mr Hynes last year.

Following last week’s fatality and pile-up, both men have renewed their calls for action to be taken. Mr Hynes, who now represents a number of clients involved in accidents on the M7, said it was another tragic occurrence on what is a blackspot.

“It certainly is a road safety issue. There seems to be a link between the safety of the surface and flash weather conditions. All my clients tell me they are no longer in a position to control the vehicle.

“Speed is not an issue, the experience of he driver is not an issue, it is not drink driving, it is not any of the risk factors that we would associate with single vehicle accidents. The weather and the surface are the two primary causes in respect of these accidents from what I have seen,” said Mr Hynes.

According to the TII last year, this section of roadway has been reviewed and no fault was found from an engineering viewpoint. 

However, one school of thought is that the topography of the area is resulting in the prevailing winds blowing the water back onto the road during heavy storms. The route was built through a bog. It was delayed by over because of subsidence and became known at the time as the “sinking motorway”. 

The problem was caused by the failure of supports driven into the bogs on which the road was constructed. Local tales include heavy machinery being swallowed by the bogs and they are described as “bottomless”.

Cllr McGrath accepts that a safety audit was carried out on the road and it passed.

“But I believe there is still an issue in bad weather conditions – when wind and rain is coming across the bog. The wind is keeping the rain on the road longer than it should. 

“Look, I am not an engineer but I believe the road is too exposed in places. I think more partitions or windbreakers would help. It would stop the wind from blowing the surface water around the road and keeping it there,” said Cllr McGrath.