Bill increases penalty points for speeding and mobile phone use

New drivers to display ‘N’ plate for two years after qualifying

 Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar, at the European Transport Safety Council PIN Talk on ‘Ireland’s Road Safety Policy in a European Context’, at Farmleigh House, Dublin, today.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar, at the European Transport Safety Council PIN Talk on ‘Ireland’s Road Safety Policy in a European Context’, at Farmleigh House, Dublin, today. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 07:05

People who pass their driving test will have to display an N plate on the front and rear of their vehicle for two years after qualifying, if measures announced yesterday by the Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar are passed into law.

The N plate signals to other road users that the driver is a novice. The law applies also to motorcyclists, who will have to wear a yellow fluorescent tabard with an N visible front and rear.

If new drivers break the law within the two year period to the extent of obtaining six penalty points, they will be disqualified automatically for a two year period starting on the date of disqualification, as opposed to the date of their passing their test.

Other new measures in the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2013 include a requirement for learner drivers to keep a log book showing they have driven for a minimum period accompanied by a qualified driver; power for the garda to take a blood sample from an incapacitated driver (the result of which can only be used subsequently, however, with the driver’s permission); and roadside impairment testing, similar to the “walk the line” inquiries police in America are permitted to make of a suspect driver.

In addition, the Bill increases penalty points for a number of offences, including what Mr Varadkar described as the “most dangerous” illegal driver behaviour - speeding and using a mobile phone while driving.

Speeding goes up to three points (from two) and the same for illegal mobile phone use. Non-wearing of seatbelts also goes up to three points and a new offence to attract penalty points (two) will be non-display of NCT certificate.

Commenting on the measures targeted at new drivers, Mr Varadkar said: “The evidence that we have is that young drivers and recently qualified drivers are still involved in a huge number of collisions and a very large number of them lose their lives on the road and sustain life changing injuries. So this is a system they have in other countries and it works very well. So for the first two years after they pass their test, they are effectively on probation.”

Asked to comment on anecdotal evidence suggesting that existing laws seems rarely to be enforced with L plate drivers, Mr Varadkar said he was content with the current level of garda enforcement.

“The gardai say to me that enforcement is at the level that it needs to be but there is a difficulty in that there is a public perception, at the very least, that enforcement has been reduced and that in itself is a problem. I agree with the gardai that enforcement is at the level it needs to be but always we need to remind people that enforcement is out there.

“The most effective deterrent for any crime is the fact that people are going to be caught and that’s one of the reasons why the Road Safety Authority are running ads telling people how many people each week have been detected.”

The so-called walk the line test was similar to what people will have seen on TV, said Mr Varadkar.

“It’s of course not as straight forward as that; it is proper neurological testing involving pass pointing, stepping and so on. And gardai are trained to do that, and that can then be admissible as evidence in court but ideally it would be backed up by a blood or urine sample as well.”

Mr Varadkar said the measures in the Bill, which will have to be approved by the Dail and Seanad, and signed into law by the president, before coming into force, were the latest on his and the Road Safety Authority’s drive to make Irish roads “the safest in the EU”.

Main Points
Power for garda to take blood samples from unconscious drivers.

Penalty points increased to three for speeding, illegal use of mobile phone, non-wearing of seat belt

N-plate for newly qualified novice drivers

Learner driver log book proving carriage of qualified driver as passenger

Power for garda to ask suspect drivers to “walk the line”.