Road users such as cyclists who use video footage to report dangerous incidents should soon be able to upload content through an online service rather than bringing it to Garda stations.
A new digital portal that looks set to accept such material has been welcomed by cycling campaigners who have advocated for such a system, similar to that used in the United Kingdom. Many believe complaints regarding dangerous overtaking and other close-calls are met with mixed responses from gardaí.
However, a digital evidence Management System (DEMS), now being procured as part of the force’s upcoming use of body cameras, will be used to store and manage digital footage including CCTV, traffic and other recordings.
“The UK has it, has had it for years. It’s very efficient,” said Feljin Jose of the Dublin Commuter Coalition, which claimed cyclists wishing to report near-miss incidents caused by poor driving do not always have faith in the current system of voluntarily submitting footage at Garda stations.
“And it’s not just about cycling helmets or GoPros, [it is also] dashcams. There’s so much footage out there of dangerous overtaking on motorways, tailgating, all sorts of things. That would put a lot of dangerous drivers off the road.”
Handlebar-mounted cameras are increasingly used on Irish roads in a post Covid-era that Mr Jose says has, at least anecdotally, seen a deterioration in driver behaviour.
Although dangerous driving laws have existed for years, new rules to enforce a minimum safe passing distance of one to 1.5 metres were introduced in 2019, bringing the potential for a €120 fine and three penalty points.
A Garda spokesman said a “modern legal platform” has been under active development and that the Government’s Road Safety Strategy requires it to consider an online portal for road users to upload footage of potential traffic offences.
The DEMS system is expected to facilitate that while also bringing additional legal comforts.
“An Garda Síochána must in the first instance be able to prove the veracity of the digital image. Therefore An Garda Síochána cannot accept unsolicited images,” the spokesman said.
“A common misconception is that a member of An Garda Síochána can provide an unsolicited, unverified digital image in court as evidence. This is not possible.”
Gardaí can, however, engage with someone submitting footage by arranging for “direct in-person” downloading with an accompanying statement. A person must attend court to prove the digital image.
The amount of unsolicited road traffic footage is not known, but the spokesman said the procurement of the new system “intends to address this complex digital environment”.
What that development might mean in practice is not yet clear. Conor Faughnan, chief executive of the Royal Irish Automobile Club, believes the use of uploaded footage would have limited value in the case of less serious traffic offences.
“It would have to be at the discretion of the gardaí. You can’t create a culture which says: ‘I uploaded some footage, what are you doing with my case?’ The guards have to be the ones who set their priorities; they can’t chase down every road range incident,” he said.
“One person’s passion does not necessarily make the garda’s priority.”
Kathleen Bell-Bonjean, who teaches safe cycling in schools, was the victim of a near-miss pass by a large truck in 2021 and used footage to bring a successful prosecution for careless driving.
“It was the first day that I was using my GoPro. The purpose was to capture the landscape, it wasn’t to get footage of this happening,” she said of the incident on a rural stretch of Co Galway road between Gort and Loughrea.
Ms Bell-Bonjean reported the incident via the Traffic Watch phone number and later pressed for the driver to be brought to court.
“It was extremely scary. He was going very fast. I realised as the truck went past [that] if I had moved one inch I would have been dead.”