Learner drivers face penalty points


A new range of penalty points for motoring offences has been approved by Cabinet in the latest iteration of the Road Traffic Bill.

The Bill specifically outlaws the sending of text messages by motorists while driving, making it an offence to use or handle the keypad of a mobile phone for the purpose of sending or receiving information.

Penalty points for mobile phone use, including the new provision related to texting, will rise from 2 to 3 points (5 on conviction) under the 2012 Bill, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar confirmed this afternoon.

Learner motorists caught driving unaccompanied will shortly face a sanction of two penalty points with a further two for failing to display L-plates.

For each offence the penalty is increased to four if the driver is convicted in court. At the end of 2011 there were more than 271,000 learner permit holders in the State, equivalent to one in 10 drivers.

The new Bill also halves from 12 to six the number of penalty points a learner motorist can accumulate within a three-year period before losing their licence. It is expected this provision will apply only to learner permits issued or renewed after the legislation is enacted as new sanctions cannot be retrospective.

For all motorists the penalties for speeding, failing to wear a seatbelt or using a mobile phone will increase from two to three points and, upon conviction in court, to five.

Mr Varadkar said that the new Bill would also address the anomaly that the legality of texting was unclear. This would become a specific offence he said. Current legislation makes it an offence to hold a mobile phone while driving and the new Bill clarifies that this also relates to texting.

“Ireland has made huge strides in reducing road deaths, under successive governments. However, we can never become complacent about road safety", Mr Varadkar said.

"My Department is also bringing forward a range of other long-term measures in the Road Traffic Bill 2012. Ireland is currently ranked sixth in the EU for road safety. I want us to become the safest country in Europe,” he added.

The repair and resale of a written-off vehicle will be prohibited by a new provision which will see a vehicle deemed unroadworthy by the NCT being removed from the national vehicle file and barred from passing an NCT test.

The Bill also contains a provision for roadside impairment tests to detect drug driving. This was originally provided for in the 2010 Road Traffic Act and gardaí have been trained in those techniques.

Concerns over the robustness of the power of arrest provisions of the Act meant it was never enacted and has been rewritten.

Under the new legislation medical professionals will be allowed to take a blood sample from an unconscious driver which will not be tested until they can give consent.

To encourage the uptake of electric vehicles the Bill contains enabling legislation to allow local authorities provide parking and charging bays in public places, as well as parking bays for car club vehicles.

Since 2008, all learner drivers, including those on a second provisional licence, are required to be accompanied by a fully qualified driver.

Currently, those found in breach face a fine of up to €1,000. However, a recent Garda operation targeting unaccompanied driving found almost half flouted this requirement.

Gardaí stopped 2,200 learner drivers in March and found 43 per cent were unaccompanied. Some 30 per cent were not displaying L-plates.

Last year 3,150 learner drivers were summonsed for driving unaccompanied and of these 854 were convicted, with an average fine of €150. The maximum fine of €1,000 was not imposed.

There have been 154 deaths on Irish roads this year, 20 fewer than the same period last year.

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