Law closing possible loophole for drivers who text due in weeks

Varadkar to clarify position on sending texts and using internet while driving

Road Safety Authority chairman Gay Byrne said: “We are now faced with other killer behaviours as a result of the technology-driven world we live in.”

Road Safety Authority chairman Gay Byrne said: “We are now faced with other killer behaviours as a result of the technology-driven world we live in.”

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:00

New regulations to close off a potential loophole that may allow drivers who send texts while driving to avoid fines and penalty points, are to be introduced within weeks.

Speaking at a Road Safety Authority conference on driver distraction yesterday, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said the loophole needed to be addressed.

“The law says that you can’t operate a mobile phone while driving, but it is not 100 per cent clear as to whether that applies to sending a text or doing an internet search while the phone is in a cradle,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said to remove the doubt he would sign regulations in the next few weeks “just to make it very clear that it is illegal” to send texts and use the internet while driving.

Mr Varadkar was speaking after the conference heard that sending a typical text message while driving can take a driver’s attention off the road for 19 seconds, resulting in an emergency stopping distance of some 600 metres.


Hazard
US road safety expert Prof John Lee of the University of Wisconsin told the conference the 600m was calculated on the basis of the time it took to detect a hazard while texting, and the subsequent driver reaction time and vehicle stopping distance.

Dr Mike McKillen, chairman of cyclists.ie, said if a vehicle was travelling at a constant velocity of 50km/h, a one-second deviation of attention to the road on the part of the driver would allow the vehicle to travel nearly 14 metres.

“So in one second, the track deviation can be 14 metres,” he said and he paced that distance on the conference floor travelling from the speaker’s podium to the last row of seats. “That is the distance in one second at a constant velocity of 50km/h,” he said.

Road Safety Authority chairman Gay Byrne said although drink-driving and speeding continued to be “a significant problem” on Irish roads, “we are now faced with other killer behaviours as a result of the technology-driven world we live in”.

He said driver distraction was a factor in up to 30 per cent of road collisions, which meant that last year as many as 11,274 collisions could have been caused by driver distraction.

Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey said the force welcomed any legislative change which makes the roads safer for all. The Garda is to run a national “Switch Off Before You Drive Off” campaign next week, he added.


Legal standing
In his address, Mr Varadkar said he hoped the courts would now dispense with the practice of letting accused drivers off with a donation to the court poor box. Mr Varadkar said the practice was not one enshrined in statute, but was part of traditional “common law”. He referred to a recent High Court judgment in which the High Court had ruled the poor box had no legal standing, and he said he hoped the lower courts would pay attention to this.