Road safety disputed as penalty notices drop 37%

Garda says fall in fixed-penalty notices is down to better driving and effective enforcement. Road Safety Authority concerned about number of patrols and warns against complacency

Detection: three-quarters of drivers believe fewer gardaí are on traffic-enforcement duties. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Detection: three-quarters of drivers believe fewer gardaí are on traffic-enforcement duties. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Wed, Jun 19, 2013, 12:10

The number of fixed-penalty notices issued for driving offences such as speeding and using a mobile phone is down 37 per cent in the first four months of the year compared with the same period in 2012.

The decline is not uniform, with some offences, such as using a mobile phone, down 20 per cent, but it marks the acceleration of a trend that has seen detections for many serious traffic offences decline in recent years.

The Garda says the reduction is due to an improvement in driving behaviour and the effectiveness of enforcement.

Road-safety campaigners attribute the fall to a collapse in enforcement and changes in the way certain offences are policed. The board of the Road Safety Authority is “deeply concerned about the resources available to An Garda for traffic policing”, particularly the drop of a third in the strength of the traffic corps, to 854 officers. The chairman of the authority, Gay Byrne, has brought its concerns to the attention of Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar.

The authority’s chief executive, Noel Brett, said yesterday that, after five years of road deaths declining to new lows, there was evidence of a re-emergence of “killer behaviours”.

“Our concern is complacency – on the part of the public, politicians and by any of the agencies involved in road safety. The fear of detection is an essential part of road safety enforcement.”

Garda statistics for the years from 2008 to 2012 show significant changes in driver behaviour and enforcement. The overall number of fixed-charge notices issued fell from 453,217 in 2008 to 315,639 last year; within that period, 2011 saw a record high of 459,908 notices issued, largely as it was the first full year of private speed cameras.

Data on the number of people breath-tested at checkpoints is incomplete, but 469,103 drivers were checked for alcohol in 2012 – almost 100,000 fewer than in 2010, despite the number of alcohol checkpoints rising from 56,575 in 2008 to 71,900 in 2012.

A senior Garda said that new blood-alcohol limits, with a lower maximum for inexperienced or professional drivers, required gardaí also to check a driver’s licence, to determine the appropriate alcohol limit. As a result it was taking longer to process motorists at checkpoints, he said.

The number of drivers identified driving while over the limit fell from 18,013 five years ago to 9,365 last year.

The number of drivers caught speeding last year was 224,937, a decline of almost 40,000 compared with the high of 2011. The number of motorists caught driving without a seat beat dropped from 28,725 in 2008 to 13,802 last year. Detections of mobile-phone use fell from 41,343 in 2008 to 30,806 in 2012.

An AA Ireland survey of 20,000 motorists released at the start of the month found that nearly three-quarters of drivers believe fewer gardaí are on traffic enforcement duties.

In the four years to 2012 the number of road deaths has fallen from 279 to 162. The number of serious-injury collisions has more than halved, from 610 to 302.