Belfast Telegraph

Plea to Google Maps over Games of Thrones accident blackspot in Northern Ireland

By Gillian Halliday

An MLA has asked Google to help steer visitors away from an accident hotspot close to the Dark Hedges.

Mervyn Storey took the step after the latest crash close to the avenue of world famous beech trees last weekend.

A car being driven by a tourist collided with a tractor pulling a slurry tank at the junction of the Bregagh and Gracehill Roads.

While no one was injured according to the PSNI, Mr Storey stressed that others may not be so lucky.

"My concern is that it's a very rural area and there have been a number of accidents at that junction," he explained.

"There have been a number of collisions and I've raised the matter with Roads Service.

"It's an ongoing issue. The location is one that a lot of people want to visit."

Mr Storey said he believed tourists were using Google Maps to find the Dark Hedges, which have attracted thousands of visitors each year since being featured in Game Of Thrones, and it was subsequently directing them to the attraction via the junction in question.

When the route from Belfast is searched via Google Maps, one of the suggested options gives directions to walk to the Dark Hedges via the Gracehill Road junction with the Bregagh Road - an option that a motorist may inadvertently select as well.

Mr Storey said in light of the latest accident, he was urging the technology giant to redirect visitors to the location only via main routes, away from the blackspot.

He added: "What I would say to Google is look at the safety issue. We have people who are coming to the area who aren't familiar with our roads, our signs. Even local people have had problems."

He admitted, however, that if any changes could be implemented by Google, it would entail a "long process".

In the meantime, Mr Storey stressed that the wider issue of parking provision for the tourist attraction was something that still needed to be addressed, with a ban on visitors' cars and coaches being regularly flouted further along Bregagh Road.

In April signs banning traffic were defaced by spray paint within days of them being erected.

"People are breaking the rules," Mr Storey added.

"Car park provision and safe pedestrian access are both needed at the site, which is the most iconic tree line in Europe."

Google failed to respond to a request for comment, but the Department for Infrastructure said it was continuing to liaise with relevant stakeholders to improve facilities at the Dark Hedges.

"(The ban) came into force on October 30, 2017 and the associated signage was erected in early November. Additional signs were also erected just before Easter," it said.

"It does, however, need to be recognised that the prohibition order is step one in the process of managing this tourist attraction and is not the whole solution.

"Improved facilities will be required at this location if visitor numbers are sustained."

Urging road users to take care in the area, the department added: "Road junctions in particular can prove hazardous and require extra care and attention; do not emerge until it is safe to do so.

"When driving on rural roads expect to see slow-moving agricultural vehicles and be prepared to slow down or stop at any time."

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