Belfast Telegraph

‘This junction is a death trap’... mum speaks out after crash near the Dark Hedges

Claire with her young daughter Beau
Claire with her young daughter Beau
The small warning sign at the junction where the Bregagh Road cuts directly though the Gracehill Road

By Claire Smyth

A mother-of-two who was involved in a crash at an accident black spot near a Co Antrim landmark made famous by Game of Thrones has called for more to be done to keep tourists safe on Northern Ireland's roads.

Claire Taylor-McCooke (34) was driving her three-year-old daughter towards Armoy when her car was involved in a collision at a notorious crossroads close to the Dark Hedges.

She said the junction between Bregagh Road and Gracehill Road, where the crash happened, is "becoming a death trap".

No-one was seriously injured in the collision on May 21 which also involved a Canadian couple and their young child but both vehicles were written off.

It followed a series of earlier accidents at the junction, including one last September in which 31-year-old American tourist Michael Monroe suffered fatal injuries while on his honeymoon.

Officials are now planning to alter the layout of Bregagh Road - which tourists often use to reach the tree-lined Dark Hedges, which have become a major attraction since featuring in HBO's popular Game of Thrones series. Work is expected to start at the end of summer.

However, plans to introduce a priority 'Give Way' system for motorists have been criticised. Residents have called for the Give Way signs currently there to be replaced with Stop signs which, they argue, are internationally recognised.

Mrs Taylor-McCooke, who lives just off Gracehill Road, said the impact of the crash crushed her car doors shut and she was forced to climb out a rear window with her daughter Beau.

She said the other car was going down the hill on Bregagh Road towards Gracehill Road when the collision happened.

"My daughter was sitting behind me and her side of the car was pushed right in," she said.

"Out of the corner of my eye I could see something ploughing towards me. I felt the impact, then the airbags came on and I couldn't see anything. I veered into a grass verge, then I panicked because there was smoke."

Mrs Taylor-McCooke said the woman in the other car was crying. She claimed the tourists looked at the road signs "and said they didn't recognise them".

There have been 12 collisions at two junctions on Gracehill Road - four at Bregagh Road and eight at Fivey Road - between June 1, 2017 and the end of May 2019, according to police figures. Members of a local Orange lodge even installed their own signs close to the Bregagh Road junction to warn motorists to slow down.

Mrs Taylor-McCooke added: "It's not good for tourism.

"If we are inviting these people here - and we're making a lot of money from tourism - then we should be keeping them safe and making it easy for them. That junction is becoming a death trap."

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said it conducted a review of the crossroads with the PSNI following the recent collisions and it has now installed additional brown signs along the A44 Drones Road for the Dark Hedges. A spokesman said this is to encourage tourists to use main roads.

UUP Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Councillor Joan Baird is still calling for Stop signs to be erected and plans to bring a motion to the council tomorrow asking for its support.

She said: "The traffic used to turn off Drones Road to Bregagh or Fivey Road but they've changed the road sign which shows the Dark Hedges as straight on and takes you through the village of Armoy. Ironically this brings you to a junction with a Stop sign."

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, who is also campaigning for Stop signs, said: "The frustrating thing for me is the length of time it's taken for this to happen. We still haven't got something in place which gives us a greater degree of certainty that no-one else is going to lose their life."

The DfI said its review considered changing the Give Way signs to Stop signs but it was not the preferred option as it "does not adequately address the potential causation factors of some of the collisions, nor is it supported by the UK-wide sign policy".

The spokesman said the review favoured the installation of a priority working system to improve road safety, and added: "This involves reducing the width of the minor roads to restrict traffic flow to one direction at a time. This is achieved by constructing a physical barrier in one of the existing lanes.

"The restriction is signed to give traffic priority in only one direction and at this location priority would be given to traffic entering from the main Gracehill Road. The design of this new arrangement has commenced."

He would not confirm how much the scheme will cost as "it is still in the design stage", although residents said they have been told it will cost around £10,000.

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